Monday, October 10, 2011

Sorry Steve, you were no Edison

I know this will be hard for those of you who know me to believe, but I was a bit of a bookwormish little nerd as a kid, as opposed to the bubbling, outgoing, sparkling extrovert I have become. (Turn off sarcasm generator now.)

Early on - and I'm talking first and second grade - I learned to love the library. I was lucky enough to develop pretty good reading skills at a young age, and the school library was my favorite place to hang out. In particular, I loved a series of books called the "Landmark series" of American history. Whatever I wanted to learn about history - The Alamo, Abraham Lincoln, the Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson, Pearl Harbor - was all there in a book written specifically for elementary school kids. I learned to look for books that had that little Landmark chevron logo in the upper right corner of the cover, and I soaked them up.

And one that particularly captured my imagination was the Landmark biography of Thomas Edison (pictured here). I because engrossed in the story of his curiosity and his way of experimenting over and over until he could figure something out. I read dozens of these Landmark books, and Edison's story is the one I remember most.

Years later, I would end up working for General Electric, a company that was formed by merging the company Edison himself founded - Edison General Electric Company - and a competitor known as the Thomson-Houston company to become General Electric. Having admired Edison so much as a child, I got real pleasure in working for the company he founded.

(Today, of course, GE is practically a criminal enterprise, famous for making billions in profits without paying income taxes, dumping pollutants in the Hudson River for decades, turning out crappy appliances and getting government to subsidize its "green" business units that can't earn a spot in the competitive marketplace. (You know those stupid CFL bulbs that don't give you enough light and contain dangerous mercury to boot? GE became one of the first to figure out how to make them, then spent millions lobbying the government to make them mandatory.) But I digress...another story for another day.) point (and I'm getting to it) is that I always considered Edison an historical giant, which he certainly was. And though I admired the recently deceased Steve Jobs, I cringed a little when I heard or read commentaries about his death that called him things like "The Edison of his generation," because, frankly, there is NO Edison of this generation.

So I was pleased to come across this commentary in The American magazine, written by Vaclav Smil, which you can read by clicking on here:

I don't write this to denigrate Jobs in any way, but it's a nice chance to bring Edison's name up to a new generation, and remind people of what a remarkable genius he was. And if you're rummaging around a garage sale and find any of those old Landmark books, buy them for your kids. Someday they'll thank you.

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