cover image The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World

The Grid: A Journey Through the Heart of Our Electrified World

Jeremy Bernstein, . . Joseph Henry, $27.95 (194pp) ISBN 978-0-309-10296-4

With an appreciation of the technical ingenuity, human drama and cultural impact of the electrical grid, physicist and playwright Schewe illuminates how electricity has catalyzed both the best and worst of modernity since Thomas Edison devised the first electrical network in 1882. Even as the grid delivered light and mechanization, foremost minds like Westinghouse, Tesla and Insull continued to refine it, creating a society totally dependent on its invisible wonders. In the 1965 Northeast blackout, for example, New York shut down for lack of a product that barely existed half a century before. The grid's complexity demands predictability, Schewe shows, but even a minor short circuit can trigger a systemwide avalanche. Peppering his narrative with quotations from cultural critics Lewis Mumford and Henry David Thoreau, he argues that, economically, "we can't afford to throw away two-thirds" of energy as waste, and explains how nuclear and renewable resources can reduce pollution. Schewe also explores how Africa and Asia's dearth of electricity affects the participation of impoverished people in society. Though the final chapter on how astronauts took energy with them to the moon seems unnecessary, overall Schewe crafts an entertaining narrative with enlightening scientific and historical detail. (Mar. 15)