High Tension - FDR's Battle to...
John A. Riggs
An account of Franklin Roosevelt’s battle against the power industry to bring electricity to rural communities in the United States. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in the depths of the Depression, high tension―or high voltage―power lines had been marching across the country for decades, delivering urban Americans a parade of life-transforming inventions from electric lights and radios to refrigerators and washing machines. But most rural Americans still lived in the punishing pre-electric era, unconnected to the grid, their lives consumed and bodies broken by backbreaking chores.High Tension is the story of FDR’s battle against the “Power Trust,” an elaborate Wall Street-controlled web of holding companies, to electrify all of America―even when the corrupt captains of the industry and their cronies (led by a formidable and honest champion, Wendell Willkie, whose role in the battle propelled him to a presidential bid to unseat Roosevelt in 1940) cried that running lines to rural areas would not be profitable and that in a free market there would simply have to be a divide between the electricity haves and have-nots. Roosevelt knew better. And in this story of shrewd political maneuvering, controversial legislation, New Deal government organizations like the Tennessee Valley Authority, the packing of Federal courts, towering business figures, greedy villains, and the crying needs of farmers and other rural citizens desperate for services critical to their daily lives, John A. Riggs has chronicled democracy’s greatest balancing act of government intervention with private market forces. Here is the tale of how FDR’s efforts brought affordable electricity to all Americans, powered the industrial might that won World War II, and established a model for public-private solutions today in areas such as transportation infrastructure, broadband, and health care.Praise for High Tension “The little known but captivating story of electricity is at the heart of the New Deal. John A. Riggs is the perfect person to tell the tale.” ―Walter Isaacson, author of The Innovators, Leonardo da Vinci, and Steve Jobs “[A] lucid and compelling tale. This is a fresh angle of vision on one of the most important and under-appreciated stories of the first half of the 20th century.” ―Jonathan Alter, author of The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope “An innovative history of the chaos and conniving that created America’s transformative electricity system. . . . A compelling read. Thoroughly researched and gracefully written. . . . A must for historians, it is also a gripping read for all.” ―Martin J. Sherwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer “[A]n exhaustive look at President Franklin Roosevelt’s multipronged war against the private utility sector. . . . Riggs dives deep into the legislative, judicial, and public opinion battles over Roosevelt’s energy initiatives, including the Tennessee Valley Authority, and argues that the hybrid public-private system that emerged in America was critical to the nation’s “economic global supremacy” during and after WWII. . . . [T]his authoritative account is a valuable resource for students of America’s energy policy.” ―Publishers Weekly