Friday, June 12, 2015

The Story of Thomas Alva Edison Inventor by Margaret Davidson


Title: The Story of Thomas Alva Edison Inventor
Author: Margaret Davidson (no website found)
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: WARTY!

I am rating this book negatively because it's such a lightweight mash-up of truth and fiction that it's nothing short of a disgrace that Scholastic ever allowed it to be published. The author should be ashamed of herself for some of the things she's written here. Yes, it's true that Edison's mother took him out of school and educated him at home, but no, he did not suffer deafness because some guy pulled him aboard a train by his ears. That was a lie that Edison promulgated. His deafness came from repeated illnesses he had as a child.

Neither did I like the way this author uncritically parrots things she's evidently cribbed from some official biography or other and then adds bits she apparently made up. Yes, he was taken out of school, but for this author to suggest that we know exactly what transpired, or what Mrs Edison thought at the time is misleading at best. The author quietly glosses over parts of his life, too - such as Edison being ejected from the train on which he worked because he had turned one of the cars into a research lab without permission.

The newspaper which Edison started was the Grand Trunk Herald, named after the railroad line, not the 'Weekly Herald'. Yes, he did save a kid from a runaway train, so we get a version of the truth there, but we don't learn that he was fired from his subsequent job as a telegraph operator because once again he was abusing his employer's premises and caused damage.

The story of Menlo Park isn't quite accurate, but yes, Edison did view it as a research lab and eventually it was huge. The author glosses over how much work Edison's employees did though, effectively making it look like Edison did everything with no real input or help from anyone.

You will not learn here of how much of Edison's work built upon inventions (and occasionally infringed patents) of other inventors, such as people like William Sawyer and Joseph Swan, nor will we learn from this author that Edison and his business partners were bilking every penny they could get from their customers for his electric light until George Westinghouse produced sufficient competition that the price came down. To suggest that Edison was trying to create the Volkswagen of electric lights and provide cheap lighting for everyone is dishonest.

You will read nothing here of the power struggle over power! There was intense competition between Edison and Tesla over distribution of electricity to power these electric lights and machinery. While Edison was stubbornly promoting DC (direct current), Tesla was offering the real solution: AC (Alternating Current), but Edison would not have it and organized tours where animals were cruelly electrocuted to 'prove' how 'dangerous' Tesla's invention was. Yes, AC power is deadly, but safe if handled wisely.

You will read here of Edison's invention of motion picture phtotography, but though Edison was granted his patent for his "Kinetograph", he was responsible only for the electromechanical design. William Dickson, a Scots photographer, working for Edison, was responsible for the optical side of things, which is what movies are actually all about.

So in short, no, I am not impressed by this "impression" of Edison's life, and I cannot recommend this book.


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