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Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity

The Bottom Line

Electric Universe is a quick, fun read, providing true perspective not only on the history of science and electricity, but on the very nature of scientific inquiry and progress. Bodanis makes it clear that the failures are just as important as the successes and, at times, even more so.
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  • Enjoyable, accessible read for adults & teenagers, scientists & laymen
  • Covers an expansive subject clearly
  • Personalizes significant historical physicists & their work
  • Excellent notes, further reading, and other material at end of book
  • No punches pulled about the personal lives & views of some of the scientists discussed.


  • Doesn't cover much technical depth, as written for popular audience
  • Latter chapters (or the personalities discussed) are not as compelling as the earlier ones
  • Some concepts are over-simplified, with some errors resulting from the simplifications.


  • Author David Bodanis looks at the history of electricity and how it changed the world.
  • In five parts: Wires, Waves, Wave Machines, A Computer Built of Rock, and The Brain and Beyond.
  • 288 pages (including notes & other back content) plus acknowledgements and index sections.
  • Winner of the Royal Society's 2006 Aventis prize for best popular science book.
  • The book was also distributed under the subtitle How Electricity Switched on the Modern World.
  • David Bodanis is also author of E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation

Guide Review - Electric Universe: The Shocking True Story of Electricity

David Bodanis paints a vivid picture of the immense influence of the electron, told through the window of the lives of those who helped discover and unlock its potential. Among the stories and people presented:
  • In 1830, John Henry, a drifter working as a schoolteacher, built an electromagnet that could lift 750 pounds. He went on to design the telegraph before the scheming Samuel Morse stole it.

  • Alexander Graham Bell's love of a deaf woman led him to invent the telephone and Thomas Edison's youthful attempts to halt the technology actually improved upon it.

  • Michael Faraday realized the basic relationship between electricity and magnetism, but lacked the mathematical sophistication to prove his ideas.

  • Failures to lay a transatlantic telegraph cable offered unimaginable insights into electromagnetic fields.

  • Heroic researchers discovered the potential of radar and German improvements nearly spelled disaster.

  • Alan Turing's tragic tale of failure and ultimately suicide belies the fact that he's considered the founder of modern computer science.

  • How Silicon Valley rose up around one vile man who became a footnote in the computer revolution.

  • The amazing discovery that electricity fuels the human body and the core of who we are, the brain.
Through tales such as these, Bodanis reveals the human side of electricity, the ways that it impacts and transforms individual lives.
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