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A little more than 100 years ago, two titans of industry faced off in one of the most vicious battles the marketplace had ever seen. On one side, Thomas Edison, inventor extraordinaire, the creator of the phonograph and the electric light; on the other, George Westinghouse, tycoon and titan, backing the mysterious eastern European inventor Nikola Tesla. They fought over the very nature of the electrical system in America: would it be built on alternating current (as Westinghouse proposed), or direct current à la Edison? Though a battle over electrical standards sounds dry, this tale is anything but. McNichol's solid if brief survey of this relatively unknown moment in the history of technology ranges from macabre electrocutions of hapless animals (and eventually prison inmates) as demonstrations of the "Death Current" to the gleaming "electrical wonderland" of the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. Though the author focuses on when it's wise to fight a standards battle and when to give in, some might wish that he had another 200 pages in which to flesh out the story. His book tantalizingly scratches the surface of Edison's ingenuity and force of will, Westinghouse's shrewd business sense, and most of all the sheer eccentricity of Nikola Tesla.(Sept.)
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review by . September 17, 2013
As I get old(er), I realize that most history we know about is highly sanitized, and what we remember and/or know about the details of how it happened are glossed over or forgotten in time. That's why the book AC/DC: The Savage Tale of the First Standards War by Tom McNichol appealed to me when I saw it at the library. I do know there was friction between Thomas Edision (DC - Direct Current) and George Westinghouse (AC - Alternating Current) as to which was better and which electrical standard …
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