When the Lights Went Out: A History of Blackouts in America

When the Lights Went Out: A History of Blackouts in America

by David E. Nye

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Overview

Blackouts—whether they result from military planning, network failure, human error, or terrorism—offer snapshots of electricity's increasingly central role in American society.

Where were you when the lights went out? At home during a thunderstorm? During the Great Northeastern Blackout of 1965? In California when rolling blackouts hit in 2000? In 2003, when a cascading power failure left fifty million people without electricity? We often remember vividly our time in the dark. In When the Lights Went Out, David Nye views power outages in America from 1935 to the present not simply as technical failures but variously as military tactic, social disruption, crisis in the networked city, outcome of political and economic decisions, sudden encounter with sublimity, and memories enshrined in photographs. Our electrically lit-up life is so natural to us that when the lights go off, the darkness seems abnormal.

Nye looks at America's development of its electrical grid, which made large-scale power failures possible and a series of blackouts from military blackouts to the “greenout” (exemplified by the new tradition of “Earth Hour”), a voluntary reduction organized by environmental organizations.

Blackouts, writes Nye, are breaks in the flow of social time that reveal much about the trajectory of American history. Each time one occurs, Americans confront their essential condition—not as isolated individuals, but as a community that increasingly binds itself together with electrical wires and signals.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780262288330
Publisher: MIT Press
Publication date: 01/29/2010
Series: The MIT Press
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
File size: 4 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

David E. Nye is Senior Research Fellow at the Charles Babbage Institute and the History of Science and Technology program at the University of Minnesota and Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. His other books published by the MIT Press include Electrifying America and American Technological Sublime. He was awarded the Leonardo da Vinci Medal in 2005 and was knighted by the Queen of Denmark in 2013.

What People are Saying About This

Paul Israel

David Nye's history of blackouts in America is much more than a history of these events. What he has given us is an insightful and often surprising social and cultural history of our relationship to, and increasing dependence on, electricity and its unseen grid.

Arthur P. Molella

Fifteen years ago, David Nye's groundbreaking Electrifying America showed us how the social, cultural, and political terrain shifted when the lights went on. Now he shows us what happened When the Lights Went Out a must-read for anyone who lived through or just heard about the big-city blackouts of 1965 onward and wonders what they meant.

From the Publisher

David Nye's history of blackouts in America is much more than a history of these events. What he has given us is an insightful and often surprising social and cultural history of our relationship to, and increasing dependence on, electricity and its unseen grid.

Paul Israel, Director and General Editor, Thomas A. Edison Papers Project, Rutgers University

Meticulously researched and engagingly written, When the Lights Went Out is part history and part cautionary tale. David Nye illumines his subject with such insight and skill that a reader won't ever be able to flip on an electrical switch without thinking of this book and its consequential message.

Robert Schmuhl, Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair in American Studies and Journalism, University of Notre Dame

Fifteen years ago, David Nye's groundbreaking Electrifying America showed us how the social, cultural, and political terrain shifted when the lights went on. Now he shows us what happened When the Lights Went Outa must-read for anyone who lived through or just heard about the big-city blackouts of 1965 onward and wonders what they meant.

Arthur P. Molella, Director, Smithsonian Lemelson Center

Fifteen years ago, David Nye's groundbreaking Electrifying America showed us how the social, cultural, and political terrain shifted when the lights went on. Now he shows us what happened When the Lights Went Out a must-read for anyone who lived through or just heard about the big-city blackouts of 1965 onward and wonders what they meant.

Arthur P. Molella, Director, Smithsonian Lemelson Center

Endorsement

Fifteen years ago, David Nye's groundbreaking Electrifying America showed us how the social, cultural, and political terrain shifted when the lights went on. Now he shows us what happened When the Lights Went Out a must-read for anyone who lived through or just heard about the big-city blackouts of 1965 onward and wonders what they meant.

Arthur P. Molella, Director, Smithsonian Lemelson Center

Robert Schmuhl

Meticulously researched and engagingly written, When the Lights Went Out is part history and part cautionary tale. David Nye illumines his subject with such insight and skill that a reader won't ever be able to flip on an electrical switch without thinking of this book and its consequential message.

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