Edison’s key contributions include the carbon microphone, the electric light bulb, electricity distribution systems, the phonograph and the motion-picture camera. Edison’s methods were also remarkable: halfway between the craftsman-tinkerer of the early 19th century and the scientist of today, he established and ran pioneering research laboratories with large staffs, yet lacked training in mathematics or the basic sciences.
Matthew Josephson’s Edison: A Biography won the Society of American Historians’Francis Parkman Prize in 1960.
“This is an outstanding biography... [Josephson] establishes the developing relationship between finance and invention which constitutes the basis for Edison’s success... [He] has mastered the substance of Edison’s inventive activity and has written of it quite authoritatively and vividly.” — Thomas P. Hughes, Technology and Culture
“... It is clear that there is reason to welcome yet another book about a man of whom so much has been written. It must have been precisely because so much in the Edison record is myth, fostered by adulators and by Edison himself that Mr. Josephson turned his skillful, corrective hand to a saga that may have seemed more familiar than it actually is. From his well-presented, well-written findings emerges a giant without whom much of life as we live it would simply not exist. It is a first-rate job that needed doing.” — John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune
“A well-researched account of the life of one of America’s authentic folk heroes--Thomas Alva Edison--an original creator with a genius for strategic invention... Thoroughly absorbing, this significant volume is a competent contribution to the history of American science, and gives not only a sharply drawn picture of this self-educated giant of invention, but also of the beginnings of the telegraph, electrical, record, motion picture and automobile industries, as well as the sociological changes that were wrought by Edison’s practical discoveries.” — Kirkus Review
“A biography that is dignified, detailed, and objective, sprinkled with moments of humor, pathos, and drama... One of the chief virtues of this book is the care taken by the author to build up a realistic picture of Edison the man.” — F. Garvin Davenport,The American Historical Review
About the author
Born in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish immigrants from Romania and Russia, Matthew Josephson (1899-1978) graduated with an A.B. from Columbia University in 1920 and worked briefly as a reporter for the Newark Ledger. As an expatriate in Paris in the 1920s “to win a year or two of freedom and give all my time to writing,” he was associate editor of Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts (1922–24), befriended leading surrealists like Paul Éluard, André Breton, Louis Aragon and Max Ernst and was an editor at the magazine transition (1928–29). After returning to America, Josephson worked on Wall Street before joining the editorial staff of The New Republic. He contributed regularly to The Nation, The New Yorker, and the Saturday Evening Post.
His first book was a biography of Émile Zola, Zola and His Time: The History of His Martial Career in Letters (1928). Interested in 19th-century French literature, he also wrote the biographies Victor Hugo (1942) and Stendhal (1946). His books about American economic history include The Robber Barons: The Great American Capitalists, 1861–1901 (1934), which chronicles the lives of late 19th century barons of industry like John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie, Edison: A Biography (1959) and The Money Lords: The Great Finance Capitalists, 1925–1950 (1972). Josephson wrote two memoirs, Life Among the Surrealists (1962) and Infidel in the Temple(1967). He was elected a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1948.