revolutionaries demands examination and dismissal. It is a sweeping
study of a vast subject: how accurate is it in the detail? Firstly, let us
turn to rubber which any tolerably educated person should know does not originate
in "the sap from a tree". Secondly, Hancock is merely introduced as
one who sought to steal Goodyear's invention of vulcanization: without Hancock's
mastication process devised twenty years prior to Goodyear's chance discovery
there was no method of producing vulcanized goods. It was the combination
of the Hancock and Goodyear processes which led to the modern rubber industry.
If this false picture of the rubber industry is typical then surely one must
question the veracity of the remainder of the book..
Weightman tends to place a spotlight on an invention, and its inventor, and then fails to pursue its full development. Thus in the case of steam locomotive development there is no mention of either the Sharp Brothers or of Beyer in Manchester in the spread of railway technology. Instead the reader is treated to pages on the unfortunate William James who was destined to become a footnote to railway history. Similarly, Timothy Hackworth is mentioned several times, but neither Ramsbottom nor Webb, Crewe nor Swindon are included in spite of their dramatic impact upon once tranquil rural landscapes.
Children of light: how electricity changed Britain forever is more tightly focussed, but employs the same literary technique of sharply illuminating a few developments to demonstrate an overall theme. In this respect it is similar to Hennessey's The electric revolution, but he concentrates on generation and distribution, whereas Weightman is more interested in domestic consumption and the politics of electricity supply. Neither is especially strong on electric traction (in the case of Hennessey this is surprising): neither mentions Sir Herbert Walker of the Southern Railway. Weightman does show how Lord Weir hoped how the establishment of a National Grid would facilitate railway electrification, but even Hennessey restricts the Brighton electrification (so dependent upon the Grid) to a footnote on electricity in Brighton. As Weightman cites Hennessey this failing may stem from there. The whole question of main line electrification is ignored, especially its failure to be adopted by Britain where North American laissez faire seems to have prevailed until very recently, indeed until the intervention of Lord Adonis.