in 111 Books in 2011

#14/111: The Wizard of Menlo Park

What is it about?

Thomas A. Edison – the inventor of the modern world! Really? Randall Stross investigates Edison’s story and tries to find the real Edison. He doesn’t talk so much about the technical achievements, he rather focuses on Edison’s self-marketing. Showing how Edison exaggerated, told lies and played with the media.

Key points?

Famous doesn’t mean profitable: Edison got famous while working on the first version of the phonograph. But it took him four years for the first commercial version and another 20 years for the improved one.

It’s not about you: Edison’s life and business was about Edison. He wanted that the phonograph was used as a dictating machine. But the customers wanted to use his machine for music because its dictating abilities were pretty poor. It didn’t interest Edison, he was too pigheaded to commit himself to his customers.

Don’t try to control everything:  Moreover it did not stop there. Henry Ford called Thomas Edison “the world’s worst business man” but it didn’t bother Edison. Also, there were so many opportunities which were missed. Furthermore, he had big problems operating his companies efficiently. While building his first power grid he needed about $30,000 per square mile to install the power lines, while his competitions only needed about $500.

Look into new fields: Edison worked in lots of businesses. From providing electricity to mining. He immersed in different fields which helped to stabilize his aura as the inventor of the modern world.


The stories are highly interesting because you see how he failed (See: Confessions of a Serial Entrepreneur) and you’ll learn about his most remarkable move: He built a strong relationship with important journalists how praised him continuously. He knew how to market himself.

In conclusion, Edison didn’t invent the light, but he did invent personal branding for business people.

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