Announcing Our Best Books of 2021

Excerpt from Edison by Edmund Morris, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


by Edmund Morris

Edison by Edmund Morris X
Edison by Edmund Morris
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2019, 800 pages
    Nov 2020, 800 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

Chapter 1

At seventy-three, with his wartime career as president of the Naval Consulting Board behind him, Edison tried to make sense of a new intellectual order that challenged everything he had learned of Newtonian theory. Abstract thought did not come easily to him. "My line of sorrow," he wrote, "lies in the realm of technical science." He needed to feel things come together under his hands, see the filament glow, smell the carbolic acid, and—as far as possible for a near-deaf man—hear the "molecular concussions" of music.

Laws such as those of Faraday's electromagnetic induction and Ohm's relation of current, voltage, and resistance he understood, having applied them himself in the laboratory. But now, if only to slow as much as possible the entropy of his own particles (the fate of all systems, according to Lord Kelvin), Edison studied Einstein's general theory of relativity. The recent solar eclipse had persuaded him, along with the academic scientists he mocked as "the bulge-headed fraternity," that the theory was valid—even if it failed to suggest any correlation between his attempt to measure the total eclipse of 1878 and his subsequent perfection of incandescent electric light.

The urtext of the theory, as translated by Robert Lawson, defeated him after only eleven pages. "Einstein like every other mathematical mind," he scrawled in the margin of his copy, "has not the slightest capacity to impart to the lay mind even an inkling of the subject he tries to explain." He turned for help to an interpretive essay—Georges de Bothezat's "The Einstein Theory of Relativity: A Glance into the Nature of the Question"—and filled thirty-one notebook pages with scrawled paraphrases of its main points.

Gravitation is due to the retardation in velocity of the ultimate particle in passing through the fixed aggregates of matter. Ultimate particles fill the whole of space and proceed in every direction... .

He could imagine that at least in terms of his own observation, forty years before, of the thermionic emission of carbon electrons in a lightbulb after evacuation—a mysterious darkening since known as the "Edison Effect." It was about as far as he ever got in his search for a "new force" in electrochemistry. Disparaged at the time by his peers, he now knew that he had discovered, if not recognized, the phenomenon of radio waves eight years before Heinrich Hertz.

Wireless waves cannot proceed thru space but thru Matter in combination with the ultimate particle... . From this, if true, all matter is formed of the same material.

Edison had once teased a science fiction writer with the notion of interchanging atoms of himself with those of a rose. He noted that Einstein envisaged particles in space with common axes converging into solidly constituted "rings," while others remained ethereal. Hence the "primal ring" of the solar system, with its interplanetary nothingness.

We now have matter in a form which is polar & capable of producing what we call Magnetism & Electricity.

The religion boys, of course, would protest that what drew particles together was the will of God. Edison was as ready as Einstein to believe in a "Supreme Intelligence" made manifest by the order and beauty of the stars, and equally reluctant to personalize it: "I cannot conceive such a thing as a spirit." The furthest he would go in the direction of metaphysics was to imagine the subcellular particles of a human being as "infinitesimally small individuals, each itself a unit of life."

These units work in squads—or swarms, as I prefer to call them—and ... ​live for ever. When we "die" these swarms of units, like a swarm of bees, so to speak, betake themselves elsewhere and go on functioning in some other form or environment. If the units of life which compose an individual's memory hold together after that individual's death, is it not within the range of possibility ... ​that these memory swarms could retain what we call the individual's personality after the dissolution of the body?

  • 1
  • 2

Excerpted from Edison by Edmund Morris. Copyright © 2019 by Edmund Morris. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: The Book of Mother
    The Book of Mother
    by Violaine Huisman
    Fictionalizing the life of author Violaine Huisman's own mother, this debut novel is split into ...
  • Book Jacket
    People from My Neighborhood
    by Hiromi Kawakami
    People from My Neighborhood is exactly what it sounds like — an unnamed narrator recounts a ...
  • Book Jacket
    Win Me Something
    by Kyle Lucia Wu
    Kyle Lucia Wu's Win Me Something opens with a young woman named Willa explaining that she did not ...
  • Book Jacket: The Island of Missing Trees
    The Island of Missing Trees
    by Elif Shafak
    The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak tells a tale of generational trauma, explores identity ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    True Crime Story
    by Joseph Knox

    The #1 international bestselling novel. What happens to all the girls who go missing?

Who Said...

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some to be chewed on and digested.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

I Y Can't S T H, G O O T K

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.