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The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World | [Randall E. Stross]

The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World

At the height of his fame Thomas Alva Edison was hailed as “the Napoleon of invention” and blazed in the public imagination as a virtual demigod. Newspapers proclaimed his genius in glowing personal profiles and quipped that “the doctor has been called” because the great man “has not invented anything since breakfast.” But Edison's greatest invention may have been his own celebrity.
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Publisher's Summary

At the height of his fame, Thomas Alva Edison was hailed as “the Napoleon of invention” and blazed in the public imagination as a virtual demigod. Newspapers proclaimed his genius in glowing personal profiles and quipped that “the doctor has been called” because the great man “has not invented anything since breakfast.”

Starting with the first public demonstrations of the phonograph in 1878 and extending through the development of incandescent light, power generation and a distribution system to sustain it, and the first motion picture cameras - all achievements more astonishing in their time than we can easily grasp today - Edison's name became emblematic of all the wonder and promise of the emerging age of technological marvels.

But as Randall Stross makes clear in this critical biography of the man who is arguably the most globally famous of all Americans, Thomas Edison's greatest invention may have been his own celebrity. Edison was certainly a technical genius, but Stross excavates the man from layers of myth-making and separates his true achievements from his almost equally colossal failures. How much credit should Edison receive for the various inventions that have popularly been attributed to him - and how many of them resulted from both the inspiration and the perspiration of his rivals and even his own assistants? How much of Edison's technical skill helped him overcome a lack of business acumen and feel for consumers' wants and needs?

This bold reassessment of Edison's life and career answers these and many other important questions while telling the story of how he came upon his most famous inventions as a young man and spent the remainder of his long life trying to conjure similar success. We also meet his partners and competitors, presidents and entertainers, his close friend Henry Ford, the wives who competed with his work for his attention, and the children who tried to thrive in his shadow - all providing a fuller view of Edison's life and times than has ever been offered before. The Wizard of Menlo Park reveals not only how Edison worked, but how he managed his own fame, becoming the first great celebrity of the modern age.

©2007 Randall E. Stross (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"As he demonstrated in his earlier examinations of the creative lives of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, organizational historian Randy Stross once again reveals a keen eye for the hidden details and forgotten nuances in the lives of great men. His recreation of the life and achievements of Thomas Edison will become the standard reference to which all historians will turn for years to come. And yet the book is written with an eye for detail and a flair for observation that reads more like a great mystery novel than your standard biography. A must read!" (Roderick Kramer, William R. Kimball Professor of Organizational Behavior, Stanford Business School, Stanford University)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (232 )
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  •  
    Richard Daniel Fort Worth, TX USA 05-06-12
    Richard Daniel Fort Worth, TX USA 05-06-12 Member Since 2008
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    "Fast paced account of Edison"

    I got got interested in Edison when seeing the Menlo Park exhibit at the Henry Ford in Michigan. This is the first book that I've heard that covered his life and the impact he had on so many aspects of America.

    Grover Gardner is my favorite narrator. There are a few sections that I think can be condensed. This shows the failures as well as the successes of Edison and he managed to alter our lives.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Houston, TX, United States 06-23-13
    Robert Houston, TX, United States 06-23-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Interesting review of Edison's life"

    But the subtitle is misleading. I didn't really get a sense of "how TE invented the modern world". How his greatest inventions isn't covered in much depth. It does present a overall picture of the man, warts and all that was very interesting.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elizabeth Bellevue, WA, United States 08-25-12
    Elizabeth Bellevue, WA, United States 08-25-12 Member Since 2007

    A school administrator and avid reader and listener of books. At least an hour of every day is spent in the car, and that's where the bulk of my listening is done. I tend to listen to books on "faster" mode so I can get through more books!

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    "Enlightening, but not compelling"

    My knowledge of Edison was basic and based largely on folk lore. Reading this book taught me more about Edison--celebrity was important to him, did he really invent things or just take credit for them, he expected more of others than he gave himself, he had a profound hearing loss and he went camping with Ford & Firestone. Those are my lasting impressions.

    I am glad I read (listened) to the book and learned more about Edison, but I do feel my bubble was burst as this great inventor and American hero became a self-centered, aloof man. I guess reality had to set in at some point.

    The book, in general, was well written, although at times it seemed to drag on and failed to be compelling.

    7 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    RealTruth Investor Relations, MN 03-04-13
    RealTruth Investor Relations, MN 03-04-13 Member Since 2011

    RealTruth

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    "Good book about Edison"

    Thorough biography about Thomas Edison and his discoveries. Lengthy discussion of phonograph, incandescent light bulb, moving pictures and other finds.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rick Bothell, WA 08-10-12
    Rick Bothell, WA 08-10-12 Member Since 2010
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    "Well written and full of historical tidbits"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World to be better than the print version?

    I haven't read the print version


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    this book was a bit overlong and had too many details that didnt help tell the story in some places.


    What about Grover Gardner’s performance did you like?

    After listening to this book I will be a permanent fan of Grover Gardner. He's not particularly varied in his voice performance but he's very comforting and easy to listen to.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    "We've invented a movie, about a book that was invented to tell the story of an inventor who didn't really invent much!!"


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katie 08-07-12
    Katie 08-07-12
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    "Good narration weak story"

    The overall impression from the book was disjointed. It tells a story of Thomas eddision, but I really feel like it didn't touch on some very well known points of his life and it was not clear alot of the time how he got to where he got. Overall a good listen but not what I had expected

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jennifer 12-15-14
    Jennifer 12-15-14 Member Since 2011
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    "A lively account of the inventor/ public icon"

    A good bio, but I took longer to listen to it than I usually do with books of comparable length. Stross showed the private workaholic inventor's journey from telegraph operator to celebrity nearly overnight, and how his temperament and celebrity would influence his work and the world at the turn of the century and beyond. While he did do a lot of work and began innumerable projects, I think his lab assistants and employees did not get nearly enough credit for their contributions.

    I think his own stubbornness and confidence in his own opinions and powers were his downfall when it came to the business side of his many operations. If he hadn't been so set on his phonograph being purposed exclusively how he wished, he could have capitalized on the public interest early and run away with the market - but his disdain for the public's "lower minded" wants and his inflexibility lead to others taking over the market when the time was ripe, and he again failed to adjust with the advent of radio entertainment. I think a lot of his perceptions and narrow-minded opinions when it came to all things audio was due to his partial and increasing deafness (an aspect that was totally new to me, though I had some cursory familiarity with his general bio). But he had his way, he made every decision and things were done how he wanted them to be done.

    It still strikes me as amazing how much credit the press gave him, and how big a public figure he became -and stayed- despite his overestimates of his achievements and their release dates. Especially when it came to his work on incandescent light and rolling out his utility service in NYC. I liked the sections on the kinetoscope's development and on his friendship with Ford. What a world it was for them... And so true, as the author pointed out in the final passages, that he lived at an ideal time for all of the developments to take place and to receive the recognition that he did. Industries were born from his work, and everyone knew it was his work, whereas today most people don't think twice or care to know who developed and advanced the technology we use every day - just as I would not have known whose patents were involved in the iPod in my hand even though his total patent count rivals Edison's...

    Very well read by Mr. Gardner. He had an animated tone, and really brought the scenes in the lab and late 19th century to life. No dry non-fiction droning here. I'd recommend to anyone with an interest in the inventor.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    André ORLANDO, FL, United States 06-21-14
    André ORLANDO, FL, United States 06-21-14 Member Since 2011

    I love AUDIBLE! I never get mad at traffic jams and can listen to many different books, despite of my short time.

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    "Good book, but lacks a clearer image of Edison"

    I like biographies and I longed for a Thomas Alva Edison's. This book is well researched and well written, but something is missing: a good picture of Edison, a palpable one, like Roosevelt's or Tesla's. It left me with a goshtlike image of a great man.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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    Sam Motes Tampa 01-31-14
    Sam Motes Tampa 01-31-14 Listener Since 2009

    Audible obsessed lifelong learner.

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    "Brilliant inventor yet flawed business man"

    A very interesting look into the life of Edison that paints the picture of a brilliant inventor that was flawed with traits of being very vain, elitist, over opinionated, and a very poor business man. Obviously in hindsight but the author tells a story of missed opportunities due to his character flaws keeping him from thriving of his inventions similar to the story of the McDonnell brothers in the fast food world. The business and personal relationship between Edison and Ford was the most interesting part of the book for me. Grover Gardner does a great job of narration as usual.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    matthew 09-17-12
    matthew 09-17-12
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    "interesting, but could have been better"
    Would you try another book from Randall E. Stross and/or Grover Gardner?

    maybe depends on topic of book


    What did you like best about this story?

    it tried to tell the story about Edison


    What three words best describe Grover Gardner’s performance?

    just ok


    What else would you have wanted to know about Randall E. Stross’s life?

    nothing


    Any additional comments?

    some books should not be made into audio books

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
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