From Edison to Enron
The Business of Power and What It Means for the Future of Electricity
by Richard Munson
September 2005, 216pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-98740-4
$46, £35, 40€, A63
Paperback: 978-0-313-36186-9
$20, £15, 18€, A28
eBook Available: 978-0-313-05125-8
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Where science, business, and policy meet—the intriguing story of electricity, the battles that have been waged over its control, and the challenges and opportunities that face consumers, industry entrepreneurs, and policymakers in the future.

The blackout of 2003 illuminated just how dependent America is on electricity. It was not just that some 50 million people in eight states and Ontario were cut off from their televisions, microwaves, ATMs, and email. Without the electrical juice to keep their sockets alive, factory managers were forced to close production lines, city managers shut down water deliveries, grocery store clerks watched their frozen inventory slowly melt away. Economists estimated that the blackout cost Americans $5 billion even as energy analysts were predicting that a similar blackout could happen again. The catastrophe forced us to marvel at the unusual ability of sub-microscopic particles to move like waves inside a wire and cause bulbs to glow. It highlighted the complex requirements for managing the massive generators, transformers, transmission lines, and switch boxes needed to tap and deliver flowing electrons. It encouraged us to recognize the profound impact of electricity on all aspects of commerce and culture.

Such events as the blackout, the Enron debacle, and the California brownouts also reveal the cracks in a 100-year-old industry structure that have been building ever since Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and their contemporaries first managed to harness electricity and make it available to the masses, and tycoons, such as Sam Insull and George Norris, began to concentrate financial control and political influence. From Edison to Enron traces the controversial history of this $210 billion industry—the nation’s largest—showcasing the key individuals, technological innovations, corporate machinations, and political battles that have been waged over its domination. Munson maintains that today’s technological and regulatory infrastructure, as a function of its history, is a relic that has long outlived its usefulness; he points out that two-thirds of the fuel burned to generate electricity is lost, that Americans pay roughly $100 billion too much each year for heat and power, and that environmentally unfriendly generators are the nation’s largest polluters. Meanwhile, innovations in technology and business models are being blocked by entrenched monopolies. Ultimately, Munson argues that current policies and practices, including those favored by the Bush Administration, are preventing entrepreneurs from producing more efficient, healthy, and sustainable power supplies. Moreover, he presents an agenda for business and policy reforms that will stimulate economic development in the United States and around the world.


"Munson presents a 100-year history of the electric power industry. The early history focuses on important persons--Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, Samuel Insull, and George Norris--emphasizing technology and entrepreneurship. The later history traces a series of interrelated problems, developments, and events: public power (TVA, Boulder/Hoover Dam), blackouts, oil embargoes, Con Edison's missed dividend, Three Mile Island, increased competition, alternative energy sources, cogeneration, deregulation, California's 2000-01 crisis, regulation supporting monopoly, possibilities for greater efficiency, and problems of an aging capital stock. The author also examines the dead hand of governmental regulation: barriers to new competition, the preservation of vested interests, and the grease of political contributions. This stimulating book offers many fine and valid points....Recommended. General readers."—Choice, April 1, 2006

"Traces the history of the electricity industry, highlighting key individuals, technological innovations, corporate tactics, and political battles; assesses the current status of the industry; and presents an agenda for the future."—Journal of Economic Literature, March 1, 2006

"[A] lively and readable account of electricity in the US, starting in fact before Edison and continuing beyond the debacle of Enron."—Modern Power Systems, March 8, 2006

"From Thomas Edison's struggle with George Westinghouse to the pending trial of Kenneth Lay, Munson spins a timely and well-researched story. Munson addresses the most recent concerns of elevated energy prices, while expanding on many new technologies that can improve pollution and more reliable energy. Perhaps the most insightful look into this industry is the current policy barriers that hinder their implementation. Munson explores these policies, some favored by the Bush administration, to show how environmentalists and energy executives can improve this industry by changing their positions....This book is for those of you with inquiries dealing with the innovation and welfare of a more-reliable energy system, especially for boaters, where fuel concerns are present. From Edison to Enron is chock full of eye-opening information."—Great Lakes Boating, February 1, 2006

"Richard Munson has written a fine history of the U.S. electric industry, no mean feat. His From Edison to Enron is a good survey, with enough technical content to satisfy us geeks, but not so much as to overwhelm a good yarn. His mini-bios are particularly well done, giving a human face to a huge and often imposing, impersonal industry. His material on Edison was familiar, as it will be to many readers of this publication. But his work on George Westinghouse, Nicola Tesla and Samuel Insull will prove enlightening to many."—The Electricity Daily, November 28, 2005

"[A]n extraordinarily comprehensive and enjoyable historical portrait of the nation's most critical energy supply system, and its indispensable engine of progress and prosperity. This splendid book is as readable as it is rigorous in its fascinating journey through the creation and the evolution of the electricity enterprise in the 20th century. What sets Munson's work apart is his probing exploration of the powerful and diverse personalities who collectively shaped what has become the world's largest and most complex machine."—Kurt Yeager, President, Electrical Power Research Institute

"From Edison to Enron is a compact history of U.S. electrical utilities that demonstrates the urgent need for reform and explains how Americans can use new technologies to become more efficient, less dependent on oil imports, and more environmentally responsible. This book is not only essential reading for anyone who cares about the electric bill, but also for anyone concerned about what we bequeath to the next generation."—David E. Nye, Professor of Comparative American Studies, University of Warwick, author of Electrifying America
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.
Accept All Cookies | Decline.