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

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

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Thomas Edison’s greatest invention? His own fame.

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. Starting with the first public demonstrations of the phonograph in 1878 and extending through the development of incandescent light and the first motion picture cameras, 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?

This bold reassessment of Edison’s life and career answers this 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.

Product Details

  • Amazon Sales Rank: #190459 in Books
  • Brand: Brand: Broadway Books
  • Published on: 2008-03-25
  • Released on: 2008-03-25
  • Original language: English
  • Number of items: 1
  • Dimensions: 8.00" h x .80" w x 5.20" l, .64 pounds
  • Binding: Paperback
  • 392 pages


  • Used Book in Good Condition

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
In this entertaining biography, Stross (eBoys: The First Inside Account of Venture Capitalists at Work) approaches the life of Edison from an atypical angle: where scores of other biographers have focused on the genius's technical career, Stross presents Edison as the first self-conscious celebrity, a man deeply aware of the media's power and who wasn't afraid to use "the press's hunger for more sensational discoveries for his own ends." Though branding is now second-nature for famous people (and their handlers), Stross asserts that Edison launched the first successful branding campaign-an achievement arguably further ahead of its time than much of his technical output-by embracing the title "Wizard of Menlo Park," which was coined by a reporter during Edison's brief stay in that New Jersey town. With preternatural skill in image-management, Edison became indistinguishable from his moniker, encapsulating perfectly the air of mystery and wisdom he cultivated throughout his life, for both himself and his "invention factory," which "seemed capable of mastering anything." Stross's clear-eyed biography will show readers why, even at the end of the 20th century, Edison remains, outside the U.S., the best-known American ever.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist
Biographies abound of inventor Thomas Edison, so Stross distinctively positions his book under the theme of Edison's celebrity. The publicity apparatus of Edison's day, quaint compared with today's multimedia conduits to the public and its tabloid appetites, still served to elevate Edison into the realm of the famous. Stross, who frequently writes about contemporary techno-idols (Steve Jobs and the Next Big Thing, 1993), recounts the onset of Edison's celebrity with several articles published in 1877-78 about his phonograph. Soon trainloads of curiosity seekers, from hustlers to those already famous, such as actress Sarah Bernhardt, descended on Edison's laboratory to gawk at the inventor. With this loss of privacy, Edison learned the difficulty of controlling one's fame. As Stross' narrative explains, Edison attempted to exploit his name to attract attention to his business projects and succumbed to other temptations, such as pontificating on subjects outside his expertise--executions by electrocution, for example. Stross' Edison, capitalizing on his prominence but coping with the importunities of the multitude, becomes a human-scaled character grasping the honeyed thorns of fame. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

“In The Wizard of Menlo Park, [Stross] makes a fascinating and altogether contemporary contribution to our understanding of an iconic American figure.”
Los Angeles Times

“Randall Stross once again reveals a keen eye for the hidden details and forgotten nuances in the lives of great men. His re-creation 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 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

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful.
2Shallow overview of a great man.
By Warren
This was like reading an abridged version of a good book. When I read a book, I want to end with a feeling for the man I am reading about. This did not suffice. I am currently half-way through "Edison: A Life of Invention". That is much better, but it is really long and goes into too much detail.

0 of 0 people found the following review helpful.
4Used book in great shape. Learned much about the human side of ...
By Bob
All that I expected. Used book in great shape. Learned much about the human side of Edison. Genius with faults. Recommended.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful.
4Fun / Interesting
By Joseph Valentine Dworak
I did not realize how little I knew about Thomas Alva Edison - until reading this book. This is a good biography of Edison, but deals more about his rise to fame and how that whole process happened. The author weaved in and out of a good biography with some editorial tangents, but overall this is a good book.

Coming out of reading this book I really appreciate Edison, and realize that he should have stuck to inventing and left the leadership and management of his companies to people who were good and leadership and management. Classic micromanager who was not good at leading and managing. But, one heck of an inventor.


See all 48 customer reviews...

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