Electric Universe  APR 12 2005

Electric Universe

This biography of electricity -- and of the men and women who had a hand in uncovering its inner workings -- begins in the first moments after the Big Bang. Which is probably not where your high school textbook started its exploration of the subject, nor will you find many of the oftentimes surprising stories Bodanis uses to illustrate his tale.

The first mobile phone was developed in 1879? Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb, "had a vacuum where his conscience ought to be"? Alexander Graham Bell, in part, invented the telephone to impress a girl (well, acutally the girl's parents)? Samuel Morse stole the telegraph from a guy named Joseph Henry and patented it, but not before he ran for mayor of New York City on an anti-black, anti-Jew, and, most especially, anti-Catholic platform? None of that was in my high school science textbook and such is the authority of the textbook that I have a hard time believing some of it. You're thinking maybe Bodanis is embellishing for the sake of making a more exciting story (history + electricity? wake me when it's over!), but then you get to the 50 pages of notes and further reading on the subject and realize he's shooting straight and science is more strange, exciting, and sometime seedy than your teachers let on.

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