A few weeks ago a storm had knocked power out to our house, and yet I still automatically flipped on a light switch every time I walked into a room. We have become so accustomed today to the consistent flow of electricity everywhere, but that wasn’t always the case. Tom McNichol recounts the history of the epic battle that brought electricity to our homes and offices in his book AC/DC.
I think most people would call Thomas Edison the pioneer of the flow of electricity to homes that lit up the lightbulbs he created. This is true in a certain respect, and yet it is only a fraction of the story. Edison did perfect a lightbulb for the express purpose of enticing people to bring electricity into their homes or businesses, and he did create a power station to generate that electrical flow.
But power can flow through either direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC), and Edison steadfastly—some might even say stubbornly—stuck to his conviction that DC power was the way to go. In the meantime, other inventors, especially George Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla, were perfecting and promoting the superior advantages of AC power. The battle between these forces was vicious, unrelenting, and at times gruesome!
Interestingly, it took the unique talents and prodigious minds of all three of these inventors to bring us the electrical systems we now rely upon so heavily to power our homes, businesses, cars, computers, and smart phones. From AC wired power to DC battery-stored power, we are daily grateful for these inventors’ creativity.
I will add a slight footnote to this review that I found the bookend chapters of this book—that is the first and last chapters—to detract from the overall fascinating history. The opening chapter talks about man’s fear and fascination of lightning, and the last chapter talks about a modern-day technology battle that I found incongruous with the history of the AC/DC battle. But despite those somewhat awkward chapters, I found the balance of the book to be quite entertaining and educational.