Reviews and comments on Thomas Alva Edison: An American Myth (MIT Press)

Thomas Alva Edison: An American Myth “A fascinating and thought-provoking work that clearly stands at the forefront of previous Edison scholarship and should be included in all future bibliographies of modern American culture.  Wachhorst contends that America uses its culture heroes primarily to resolve contradictory societal values in a single, paradoxical reality.  In the case of Edison, such a purpose enveloped a multiplicity of American cultural themes and compelled Wachhorst to probe deeply into the modern American psyche.  Reminiscent of Peterson’s masterful Jefferson Image In The American Mind in both quality and scope, Wachhorst’s exhaustive research and incisive analysis provide a firm frame of reference upon which future biographers of Edison would be prudent to rely.  Borrowing insights from such wide-ranging fields as Greek mythology, Jungian psychology, and quantitative analysis, the author has produced a work that places modernity’s uses of the symbolic Edison nearly on a par with its uses of his many inventions.  This is an important work that should prove of interest to all students of modern American culture and technology.” 

                                                                                              ―Ronald J. Lettieri, History: Reviews of New Books

“By collating a century of newspaper and other accounts, Wyn Wachhorst has compiled an unusually detailed survey of one great American’s outsize public image.  Through a diverting parade of anecdotes and old interviews, we discover not the man, but his myth: the hayseed hero of a nation on the move.”    

                                                                                                                                    ―Jim Miller, Newsweek.

“This book is particularly appropriate at a time when a nostalgic yearning for the ‘simple’ American virtues of rugged individualism, thrift, and industriousness coincides with the country’s need to feel technologically powerful once again.  Wyn Wachhorst sees this paradox of the ‘machine in the garden’ as a fundamental theme in American culture.  For him, Thomas Edison, the country-boy tinkerer who grew up to bring light to the nation, is the archetypal American.  Wachhorst has written a compelling story of the evolution of a myth.”

                                                                                                                                        ―Natalie Angier, Discover

“Thousands of items―books, pamphlets, magazine and newspaper articles, plays, films, and television documentaries spanning more than a century―constitute the data base for this painstaking analysis of Edison’s image as American culture hero.  Wachhorst’s treatment of the texts is always careful and occasionally brilliant, providing us with fresh insights into the tension between the man and his public face.  His creative application of myth analysis may puzzle Edison scholars not familiar with the pertinent literature, but it is precisely this integration of myth and content analysis that serves to organize the welter of popular Edison literature so effectively.  Scholars who probe the more than two million pages in the Edison archives will do well to read Wachhorst as a critique of their own received Edison myths.  The book is a pleasure to read, and the Edison material is organized in the most helpful manner achieved to date.  Those who wish to understand Edison’s place in American culture can ill afford to ignore the critical reading of the Edison image provided here.  Wachhorst succeeds, finally, because he cares for his subject.”

                                                                                                                            ―John M. Staudenmaier, Science

“Throughout this complex study, Wachhorst draws on the work of others, ranging from novelists John Dos Passos and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. to scholars Leo Marx and David Riesman, to illuminate the place of the Edison myth in the American experience.  For contemporary Americans, the author suggests that such a hero, encumbered though he may be with contradictory cultural baggage, continues to typify the American spirit.  Ultimately, Edison has become ‘the Old Man,’ who looms out of the past―an ‘incredibly energetic and affirmative figure.’”

                                                                                                                                ―Joseph Barbato, Smithsonian

“What a marvelous book!!  I have just completed reading it with both learning and pleasure.  The writing is magnificent and provides a narrative of enviable quality.  No wonder everyone has received it with such enthusiasm.  A job well done.” 

                                                                ―Charles Burdick, Chairman, Dept. of History, San Jose State University

“A beautifully written and continuously fascinating book.”                                         

―Kenneth T. Jackson, Prof. of History, Columbia University, announcing it as a History Book Club selection

“This is not just another biography of Thomas Alva Edison.  It is a detailed, in-depth study of the American public image of ‘The Wizard of Menlo Park.’  The book deserves to be read by all those who are interested in the history of American culture and technology.”

                                                                                                          ―Robert J. Havlik, Science Books and Films

“To the doubting Thomases all around us, this deep and thorough study of Edison will bring reassurance that America is still the land of promise and tomorrow.”

                                                                                                ―Ray Browne, Editor, Journal of Popular Culture

“Wachhorst has written an important contribution to American and Edisonian studies that has raised significant new questions about Edison and the culture that placed him on a pedestal.” 

                                                                                      ―James E. Brittain, Thomas A. Edison Papers Project

“One of the most exciting and rewarding frontiers in American historiography is the study of the mythic ways in which we have perceived our past.  Wachhorst’s Edisonis an exemplary contribution to this process.  The complexities are well thought out and presented with wit and clarity; illustrations are carefully selected and ingeniously placed; scholarly apparatus is generous, accurate, and helpfully arranged.  A splendid book.”


“A lively panorama of past American hopes and self-perceptions.”           ―Wilson Quarterly

“Wachhorst doesn’t just relate the myths or debunk them or enshrine them, he makes them part of our culture and he helps us relate to them.” 
                                                                                                             ―The Jersey Journal and Jersey Observer

 “An admirable book that wears its learning lightly.”          ―Library Journal  

Also reviewed favorably in the LondonSunday Times, Los Angeles Times, Peninsula Times Tribune, San Francisco Review of Books, Pacific Sun, the Massachusetts Minute-Man newspaper chain, and numerous others.