- Abrams Press
Electric City: The Lost History of Ford and Edison's American Utopia
- Thomas Hager
- Abrams Press
- Biography & Autobiography > Business
During the roaring twenties, two of the most revered and influential men in American business proposed to transform one of the country's poorest regions into a dream technological metropolis, a shining paradise of small farms, giant factories, and sparkling laboratories. Henry Ford and Thomas Edison's Detroit of the South would be ten times the size of Manhattan, powered by renewable energy, and free of air pollution. And it would reshape American society, introducing mass commuting by car, use a new kind of currency called energy dollars, and have the added benefit (from Ford and Edison's view) of crippling the growth of socialism.
The whole audacious scheme almost came off, with Southerners rallying to support what became known as the Ford Plan. But while some saw it as a way to conjure the future and reinvent the South, others saw it as one of the biggest land swindles of all time. They were all true.
Electric City is a rich chronicle of the time and the social backdrop, and offers a fresh look at the lives of the two men who almost saw the project to fruition, the forces that came to oppose them, and what rose in its stead: a new kind of public corporation called the Tennessee Valley Authority, one of the greatest achievements of the New Deal. This is a history for a wide audience, including readers interested in American history, technology, politics, and the future.
I am fascinated by the ways science and technology change our lives. When I find something interesting, I write about it, mostly books. Right now I’m focused on climate change, medicine, clean energy, and the future of food — a lot of the big topics related to the coming population surge — as well as the art of science communication. I really don’t get why people find it so easy to ignore/deny/dismiss simple facts, and I’m trying to figure that out. We’re at a weird point in history, with Americans believing some of the most ridiculous rumors and doing some of the stupidest things they’ve ever done in terms of creating a better world, while at the same time making discoveries that can make it possible for us to not only survive, but thrive in the near future, and leave our kids a better planet than the one we were born into. But we can only do that if we face facts.
My writing career got started after I figured out that I wasn’t cut out for laboratory research (it’s too repetitive for me, too confined, too much focused on getting the next big grant). So, after earning a master’s degree in medical microbiology and immunology from the Oregon Health Sciences University I went back to school and got a second master’s in journalism at the University of Oregon. I served as a communications intern at the National Cancer Institute, worked as a freelance medical writer, was a regular contributor to American Health and was a West Coast news correspondent for the Journal of the American Medical Association. After serving in several editorial positions I was named the University of Oregon’s Director of Communications and Marketing, and Director of the University of Oregon Press. I am currently a Courtesy Associate Professor of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon.
My works include either seven or twelve books (depending on how you count them, the bigger number includes co-written, edited, privately commissioned, and self-published volumes), mostly on science and medical history, and more than 100 feature and news articles in a variety of popular and professional periodicals, ranging from the Wall St. Journal and the Atlantic to Reader’s Digest and Cardio. Recent national recognition includes the American Chemical Society’s highest public communications prize, the 2017 Grady-Stack award.
One of my books, The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler, was a finalist for the National Academies Communication Award; listed among the “Best Books of The Year” by Kirkus Reviews; and named a Borders “Original Voices” Selection. My latest, Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine, has been translated into fifteen foreign languages (I am way too thrilled by foreign editions of my work; for instance it made me unreasonably happy to learn recently that one of my books was translated into Bahasa, a language I’d never heard of, in Indonesia). My 2006 book The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor’s Heroic Search for the World’s First Miracle Drug was called “fascinating” by the Los Angeles Times and “a grand story” by the Wall St. Journal.
I’ve been an invited lecturer and guest scholar at a number of universities, and have spoken widely to groups ranging from the American Association for the Advancement of Science to the Goddard Space Center, Fortune 500 corporate boards, medical gatherings, and school and civic organizations. My media appearances include two talks on C-Span’s “BookTV;” interviews on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition,” “Science Friday,” “Diane Rehm Show” and “Tech Nation;” and an expert role in the OPB documentary “Linus Pauling.”
I live in Eugene, Oregon, with my wife, writer Lauren Kessler, where we raised three children: Jackson, Zane, and Elizabeth. I love Oregon, my family’s been here for five generations, and I strongly recommend that everyone from out of state stay away because it rains so much.
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