I first saw this book at the library in Omaha, Nebraska. I filed it away for future reference, as I was overwhelmed with other books at the time. Recently, while looking through some notes of mine, I found the names of a couple of books, and this was among them. My hope was that it would be a captivating blend of anecdote and science, like Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything—which I currently use as a standard against which to compare all other “science for the masses” books.
Boy, was I disappointed. This isn’t to say that Bodanis is a bad writer, or that his book was poorly researched, or anything of that nature. But the actual science in this book was so sparse that it fell short of, say, an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Perhaps I missed the point. The book claims to be a history of electricity, and I suppose it is, in the sense that it’s comprised almost entirely of short biographies of important people in the development of electronics (Henry, Hertz, Marconi, Watt, Thomson, &c). Still, its treatment of how electricity actually works is limited to vague phrases like “force fields.” Sometimes, Bodanis got so involved in telling a peripheral story (like the bombing of Hamburg, which was possible because of technical issues with German radar) that he completely forgot what he was talking about in the first place, and then have to work in another seemingly random reference to the topic (“the invisible beams made the loose electrons in the bombers’ wings shake and shimmy”). And therein lies my frustration: I had hoped for decent science, and I got “electricity as it might be explained to a child.”
Maybe it’s your thing. The anecdotes were interesting enough, I suppose, so if you don’t want any specifics as to the electrical phenomenon itself, you may just get a kick out of this book. It’s a laughably easy read: less than 300 pages of big type in a hardcover book the size of a mass market paperback. I finished it in a few hours, though I must admit that I was barely paying attention by the end. Meh.