Inventing Edison

Thomas Edison announced his invention of the phonograph on this day in 1877. In his recent biography The Wizard of Menlo Park, Randall E. Stross says that heroic portraits of Edison as "the grandfather of the Wired World, the great-grandfather of iPod Nation" are an exaggeration and a disservice to his assistants, competitors, and forerunners. Stross's book focuses not so much on Edison's inventions as on his genius for marketing himself through his inventions, by "the application of celebrity to business." This began, says Stross, with the phonograph announcement:

No one of the time would have predicted that it would be an inventor, of all occupations, who would become the cynosure of the age. In retrospect, fame may appear to be a justly earned reward for the inventor of practical electric light -- yet Edison's fame came before light. It was conferred for an earlier invention: the phonograph. Who would have guessed that the announcement of the phonograph's invention would be sufficient to propel him in a matter of a few days from obscurity into the firmament above?… More mysterious is that it was not the phonograph itself -- it would take two decades before the machine was ready to be actually commercialized on a mass scale -- but the mere idea of the phonograph that instantly seized the imagination of everyone who heard it….

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

 

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.

Dispute Over a Very Italian Piglet

Amara Lakhous delivers a mystery novel with its finger on the hot-button issues of today's Europe.  Immigration and multicultural conflicts erupt in the Italian city of Turin, as journalist Enzo Laganà looks to restore peace to his native burg.

Papers in the Wind

In this insightful novel by Eduardo Sacheri, a young girl left destitute by the death of her soccer-playing father is uplifted by the bold schemes of her uncle, his pals, and one newbie player to the professional leagues.