Edison by Edmund Morris

The lyric acuity that the late Edmund Morris brought to biography is on flickering, posthumous display in Edison, which has its 22-year-old subject shivering one night on a New Jersey train platform: “The cold he could stand with multiple layers of underwear, and the darkness he would one day do something about.”

Morris, who died on May 24, depicts a man of such ramshackle complexity that Thomas Edison seems to have sprung from Rube Goldberg’s drawing board rather than from his own perfectionist laboratory. When judging him to be “superbly balanced,” Morris is really talking about the equipoise of a volatile chemical compound: “a combination of twinkling charm and bruising imperiousness”; a man who enjoyed his deafness as insulation against the chattering of slower minds around him.