Form and Content

A Streak of Luck is a straightforward biography of inventor Thomas Alva Edison. The narrative by Robert Conot is mainly chronological, beginning with Edison’s birth in Milan, Ohio, in 1847 and ending with his death in New Jersey at the age of eighty-four. In between those two dates, Conot relates a remarkable story.

The book divides Edison’s life into halves. Conot labels the first part “The Inventor” and the second “The Industrialist.” Each illustrates Edison’s main concerns at different times of his life. Inventing came first. Although he had little formal schooling and was never proficient at mathematics, Edison had an inquiring mind and loved to read. He experimented with chemicals and familiarized himself with the operation of telegraphic equipment. At the age of eighteen, he began traveling as an itinerant telegraph operator. His interest in the field led to experimentation and his first inventions.

Within a few years, Edison invented a stock ticker, sold the rights to it, and set up his own research laboratory, where he continued to experiment on telegraph systems. In the 1870’s alone, he invented a system by which four messages could be sent over a single telegraph wire at the same time (the quadruplex), developed a carbon telephone transmitter, invented the phonograph, and produced a series of improvements that made electric lighting practical. Later he invented the “kinetoscope,” a device for viewing...

(The entire section is 467 words.)