From the highest halls of power to the remote corners of rural America, featuring amazing technological innovation and an epic battle between the captains of a corrupted industry and America's most politically astute president, here is the story behind the greatest peacetime achievement in US history-the electrification of an entire nation under Franklin Delano Roosevelt 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 Franklin Delano Roosevelt'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. FDR 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.
"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. The battles between America's most politically astute president and a powerful industry created the hybrid, public-private electricity system that we know today. The compromises necessary to ensure equity and the public interest while unleashing the energy of private markets can inform the discussion of current issues such as telecommunications, infrastructure, and tax policy."
-Walter Isaacson, author of Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Leonardo da Vinci
"High Tension: Franklin Roosevelt's Battle to Power America is an innovative history of the chaos and conniving that created America's transformative electricity system (judged by The Atlantic to be the greatest invention since the printing press). Jack Riggs has given us a compelling read. Thoroughly researched and gracefully written, it crisply covers the historical panorama of the New Deal's hard-won achievements of breaking up the giant utility holding companies and bringing light and power to the vast darkened regions of our nation. 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, and author of A World Destroyed: Hiroshima and Its Legacies
"In an engaging narrative, High Tension captures a transformative time in American history with titanic characters, exploring some of the most compelling battles of the early 20th Century with scintillating detail. It's also a book with powerful relevance today, reminding us that the conflict between corporate concentration of power and public interests is ongoing, unresolved, and demands our attention if we hope to achieve social progress in this century."
-John F. Wasik, author of The Merchant of Power: Thomas Edison, Samuel Insull and the Creation of the Modern Metropolis
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John A. (Jack) Riggs studied history at Swarthmore College but took a lengthy detour into public policy before writing High Tension. Now a Senior Fellow at the Aspen Institute, he was at the center of energy policymaking in Washington, DC, for more than thirty years. He taught a graduate seminar in energy policy for five years at the University of Pennsylvania, moderated energy forums at the Aspen Institute, and testified more than a dozen times before Congressional energy committees.
He received a master's degree in public policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and served five years in Vietnam with the Agency for International Development during the war. As Staff Director of the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, he participated in all the major energy legislation of the 1980s and early 1990s. From 1993 to 1995 he was Deputy Assistant Secretary and then Assistant Secretary for Policy and International Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy.
As Executive Director of the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program and as Senior Fellow, Riggs led the renowned Aspen Energy Policy Forum for nineteen years. He has edited or co-edited several Aspen Institute books and reports.
Riggs served on the Swarthmore College Board of Managers for fourteen years, as chair of the board's Governance Committee, and as president of the college's Alumni Association. He and his wife live in Washington, DC.