Where were you when the lights went out? At home during a thunderstorm? Preparing for air attack in World War II? In the Northeast in 1965, when the power failed from Toronto to the East coast? In New York City during a similar but more frightening blackout in 1977? In California when rolling blackouts hit in 2000? In 2003, when a cascading power failure left fifty million people in Canada and in the northeastern United States without electricity? We often remember vividly our time in the dark. In When the Lights Went Out, David Nye views power outages in America from 1935 to the present not simply as technical failures but variously as military tactic, social disruption, crisis in the networked city, outcome of political and economic decisions, sudden encounter with sublimity, and memories enshrined in photographs. Our electrically lit-up life is so natural to us that when the lights go off, the darkness seems abnormal.
Nye looks at America’s development of its electrical grid, which made large-scale power failures possible; military blackouts before and during the Second World War (“The silence was the big surprise of the blackout, the darkness discounted,” wrote Harold Ross in the New Yorker in 1942); New York City’s contrasting 1965 and 1977 blackout experiences (the first characterized by cooperation, the second by looting and disorder); the growth in consumer demand that led to rolling blackouts made worse by energy traders’ market manipulations; blackouts caused by terrorist attacks and sabotage; and, finally, the “greenout” (exemplified by the new tradition of “Earth Hour”), the voluntary reduction organized by environmental organizations.
Blackouts, writes Nye, are breaks in the flow of social time that reveal much about the trajectory of American history. Each time one occurs, Americans confront their essential condition–not as isolated individuals, but as a community that increasingly binds itself together with electrical wires and signals.
Publisher MIT Press, 2010
ISBN 0262013746, 9780262013741
Monoskop Log http://monoskop.org/log/?p=6220