#BookReview: Edison by Edmund Morris

Reviewer: Phyllis Jones Pisanelli

Release Date: October 22, 2019


From Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edmund Morris comes a revelatory new biography of Thomas Alva Edison, the most prolific genius in American history.

Although Thomas Alva Edison was the most famous American of his time, and remains an international name today, he is mostly remembered only for the gift of universal electric light. His invention of the first practical incandescent lamp 140 years ago so dazzled the world–already reeling from his invention of the phonograph and dozens of other revolutionary devices–that it cast a shadow over his later achievements. In all, this near-deaf genius (“I haven’t heard a bird sing since I was twelve years old”) patented 1,093 inventions, not including others, such as the X-ray fluoroscope, that he left unlicensed for the benefit of medicine.

One of the achievements of this staggering new biography, the first major life of Edison in more than twenty years, is that it portrays the unknown Edison–the philosopher, the futurist, the chemist, the botanist, the wartime defense adviser, the founder of nearly 250 companies–as fully as it deconstruct the Edison of mythological memory. Edmund Morris, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, brings to the task all the interpretive acuity and literary elegance that distinguished his previous biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Ludwig van Beethoven. A trained musician, Morris is especially well equipped to recount Edison’s fifty-year obsession with recording technology and his pioneering advances in the synchronization of movies and sound. Morris sweeps aside conspiratorial theories positing an enmity between Edison and Nikola Tesla and presents proof of their mutually admiring, if wary, relationship.

Enlightened by seven years of research among the five million pages of original documents preserved in Edison’s huge laboratory at West Orange, New Jersey, and privileged access to family papers still held in trust, Morris is also able to bring his subject to life on the page–the adored yet autocratic and often neglectful husband of two wives and father of six children. If the great man who emerges from it is less a sentimental hero than an overwhelming force of nature, driven onward by compulsive creativity, then Edison is at last getting his biographical due.


“Edison” is a very comprehensive study on the man we know as Thomas A. Edison. Edmund Morris tackled a five million page archive of original documents that are housed under bomb proof concrete in Edison’s laboratory. Morris also had access to family papers still held in trust today. He studied Edison for seven years! 

I’m not sure how long it took him to write the book but it is 634 pages plus a bibliography, notes and credits. When you finish this book, you will know an Edison that business associates knew and for the first time the Edison that his family knew. 

Edison is most known for the electric light but, he has 1,093 inventions patented plus others that he did not patent. One was the x-ray fluoroscope that benefited medicine.

If you love biographies, you will want to pick up a copy of this book. I am sure you will find everything you ever wanted to know about Edison. Edmund Morris did a fabulous job with his new offering. 

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

4 Stars.

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