Written by Anthony McCarten
Review by Beth Turza

Brilliance is a fictionalised account of the life of Thomas Alva Edison. The author says this book is not intended to be another biography and that “he did no more than swirl a teacup and watch a story suggest itself”. However, his research is meticulous and his sense of time and place perfect.

The story is not told in a linear manner but episodically, each flash forward or back indicated by a different title heading. At times this is rather confusing and makes the fascinating story more difficult to follow. McCarten is an excellent writer, and his portrayal of the central characters is well done. His literary style is well suited to this subject and a pleasure to read.

I knew that Edison invented the ticker tape machine still used in the stock market, the phonograph, and the electric light bulb, but his involvement in the electric chair – still used in America – was an unpleasant revelation. I think the book was not improved by the descriptions – in graphic detail – of the electrocution of first dogs, then horses and orang-utans and finally a human being. This, in my opinion, was both unnecessary and disgusting.

For that reason I would not recommend this book to anyone without a very strong stomach. A great shame because, in all other respects, it was a truly remarkable book.