Edison and the Electric Chair by Mark Essig
A Story of Light and Death

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Thomas Edison stunned America in 1879 by unveiling a world-changing invention--the light bulb--and then launching the electrification of America's cities. A decade later, despite having been an avowed opponent of the death penalty, Edison threw his laboratory resources and reputation behind the creation of a very different sort of device--the electric chair. Deftly exploring this startling chapter in American history, Edison & the Electric Chair delivers both a vivid portrait of a nation on the cusp of modernity and a provocative new examination of Edison himself. Edison championed the electric chair for reasons that remain controversial to this day. Was Edison genuinely concerned about the suffering of the condemned? Was he waging a campaign to smear his rival George Westinghouse's alternating current and boost his own system? Or was he warning the public of real dangers posed by the high-voltage alternating wires that looped above hundreds of America's streets? Plumbing the fascinating history of electricity, Mark Essig explores America's love of technology and its fascination with violent death, capturing an era when the public was mesmerized and terrified by an invisible force that produced blazing light, powered streetcars, carried telephone conversations--and killed.

About Mark Essig

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Mark Essig earned a doctorate in American history from Cornell University. A native of St. Louis, he now lives in Los Angeles. This is his first book.
Published May 26, 2009 by Walker Books. 368 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Crime, Professional & Technical, Science & Math, Computers & Technology, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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That’s much what Thomas Edison did, writes Essig in this promising debut: though an opponent of capital punishment, he turned his attention in the last decade of the 19th century to the development of the electric chair, which, he argued—at least publicly—was the most humane way to dispose of con...

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Set in the same time period as Larson’s book, Essig combines together a mini-biography of Thomas Edison, a short history of capital punishment in America, wars over electricity and the evolution of the electric chair.

Dec 19 2003 | Read Full Review of Edison and the Electric Chair...

Project MUSE

Though Essig recounts the story of the electric chair in all these different lines and shades, in the end it seems to be Thomas Edison's statement in the hearings of the Kemmler case, driven by his desire to discredit Westinghouse and alternating current, that appears as the decisive moment in fa...

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