Destroyer of Edison

I just finished reading "Wizard of Menlo Park: How Thomas Alva Edison Invented the Modern World" by Randall Stross.  And I must say, it was horrible.  I must emphatically do not recommend it.  The reason - Mr. Stross seems determined throughout the book to tear down Edison, to find every fault (real or imagined) and detail how Edison was not amazing.  Instead of reading about how Edison was able to achieve over 1000 patents in his lifetime, you read about how Edison was not a good businessman, not a good husband, not a good father, not a good friend, not a good philanthropist, and not a good employer.  You will read about how Edison over promised results, became insufferably conceited, sought after publicity, claimed credit for inventions he didn't create, and made hundreds (if not thousands) of bad decisions.  Stross meticulously documents every negative newspaper article printed throughout Edison's lifetime.  In every case where there are two possible explanations for Edison's behavior, Stross writes about the most negative one.  One has to wonder why Stross would want to write this biography.

What was noticeably absent was a detailed discussion of Edison's genius, of his innovative capacity, of his independence in thought, of his confidence in his own abilities, of his prodigous work ethic, or of his experience creating the world's first industrial laboratory.  It wasn't until the last chapter of the book that Stross even discusses the enormous values created from Edison's inventions, spawning several multi-billion dollar industries by the time of Edison's death in the 1930s.  But even then, Stross is quick to point out that Edison's net worth was only estimated at $12 million when he died, just in case you were not convinced of Edison's poor business skills.

All-in-all, this anti-hero book should be regulated to obscurity.  This destroyer of the greatness in Edison should be trashed and forgotten.  I regret the money I spent on it and will post most of this review to Amazon and B&N in hopes that others can avoid the same regret.

So now I am on a search for a biography to cleanse my mind.  If anyone knows of a biography about Thomas Edison that is positive and uplifting, I would love to hear about it.


  1. John,

    Out of curiosity, in what contexts do you think it is appropriate to to point out the flaws of historical figures who were, quite clearly, net assets to civilisation?

  2. Excellent question, Roberto. And one that I have not thought through completely, so my answer is a bit off-the-cuff. I would say it depends on context, but I would approach it in a similar way that many book reviews in The Objectivist Standard are handled. If there are negatives about a mostly good book, the TOS reviews typically spend 90-95% of the article discussing the good things, but include a short paragraph at the end discussing any negatives, but discussing them within context of the positive. I would think a similar approach would be appropriate for a biography of a positive historical figure.

  3. Steve D3:10 PM

    What was the author's purpose in writing this book? Are his comments true and do they support his thesis?

    I guess I would have to say that if the faults he lists are imagined or if they detract from his main theme the author is probably not justified, including them. However, historical accuracy definitely has value.

    That said, nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking is not justified.