In attempting to write an objective account of Edison’s life, Conot runs the risk of not giving Edison enough credit for his inventions, since many earlier authors have overstated the case, giving Edison credit for accomplishments he never made. Yet A Streak of Luck is a balanced account. By placing Edison’s actual inventions as well as his unsuccessful attempts into historical perspective, Conot ably demonstrates what Edison’s contributions were in such areas as the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, and electricity. He indicates where Edison succeeded and where he failed. In addition, he deals with Edison’s general approach to the process of invention and discusses why this approach succeeded in some cases and failed in others.

Conot’s descriptions of Edison’s working methods are particularly informative for young readers. Edison’s own statement that “genius is two percent inspiration and ninety-eight percent perspiration” provides an insight into his approach to problems. Unremitting hard work in pursuit of a predetermined goal was the Edison way. One example was the search for a filament that would light an electric bulb without burning out quickly. The Edison laboratory workers tested hundreds of substances and chemical coatings before arriving at a combination that would produce a lasting and bright light.

Edison’s single-mindedness is evident in various of Conot’s descriptions of new inventions. This explains much of his success, in spite of the fact that he was largely ignorant of mathematics...

(The entire section is 636 words.)