The Battery Review

Posted on July 6, 2013

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The Battery Cover

Ubiquitous. That’s the best, possibly only, word to adequately describe the silent workhorse of our modern society – the battery. From behind the scenes, without any fanfare or much acknowledgement at all, the humble battery powers our modern technologies of convenience. It’s only when they die that we pay any real attention to them. It’s funny then that, in my case, rather than thanking them for their term of service, I discard them with derision, usually in a huff of frustration at the fact that I don’t have any replacements on hand.
But portable power storage devices weren’t always ubiquitous; at one time they were on the cutting edge of technology and at the forefront of the emerging field of electrical engineering. In “The Battery” Henry Schlesinger, through a mixture of anecdotes, popular history and popular science traces the battery’s history from scientific marvel to unsung modern hero.

The engaging and readable prose starts in the era of mythology and Schlesinger deftly weaves the tale of progress and modernity into the fabric of advances in electrical technology, especially the battery. In the process he deconstructs several modern myths around some of electrical science’s most well-known heroes – guys like Edison, Bell, and Morse. He gives ample credit to the other wonder-workers who, in many instances, were independently discovering the same phenomena or creating similar devices in their own laboratories but didn’t win the race to the patent office in time to solidify a place in the historical mythos.

The history Schlesinger relates, while often times more about the devices being powered by batteries, than the batteries themselves, is very enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the information on the history of radio transmissions and though I’ve been a lifelong radio hobbyist, learned some things about the history of radio technology that I had never known.

Unfortunately, the book begins to feel rushed in the last few chapters when Schlesinger brings readers into the more recent part of the battery’s story. Apparently there aren’t many modern myths or colorful personalities, or not enough time has elapsed for the tales to grow tall around the more recent advances in battery technology. So while the latter part of the book remains as an important record, it’s the first part of the book that really stands out.

“The Battery” is livelily and readable and interesting enough for any audience. Its unique angle will prevent it from ever being a ubiquitous book, despite its subject. It will be especially appreciated by anyone who has an affinity for, or connection to science, electricity or technology.

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Posted in: Book Review