Dam It!

Electrifying America and Taming Her Waterways

Thomas Edison’s invention of the practical incandescent light bulb in 1879 fundamentally altered American life. For the next fifty years, electrification drove the nation’s economy. Where rivers, America’s lifeblood, could be tapped, they were the cheapest energy source. In the early 1900s, waterpower accounted for nearly half of the country’s electric supply.

As told in Bob Underwood’s crisp narratives and enhanced by his unique personal remembrances, Dam It! offers a riveting account of how dams restructured our landscape, powered our country, and became symbols of Americans’ resourcefulness and mastery over nature. His cast of characters includes Thomas Edison, J.P. Morgan, Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse, Henry Ford, Samuel Insull, and his own legendary grandfather, who was “a dam engineer and proud of it.”

Along the way, Dam It! winds its way through natural and manmade disasters, wars, cutthroat politics, financial wheeling and dealing, and bitter power struggles. It immerses us in immense hydroelectric construction projects from coast to coast, where we witness astounding engineering and construction feats.

“Powered by his gift for storytelling, Underwood weaves a riveting narrative about America’s quest to harness the power of water through hydroelectricity. It is a tale of historic significance that reads like a novel—full of spellbinding characters, political intrigue, and inventive genius. I love this book.”

Mike Leonard, Emmy Award-winning television journalist

“Underwood personalizes the great projects and people who electrified America through managing water power. He captures the intense, raw, down-and-dirty competition between General Electric and Westinghouse, brings to life the significant movers of the industry, and gives a behind-the-curtain look at the powerful organizations and cutthroat politics that shaped the playing field. Well written and entertaining.”

William J Martin, CEO, CME Energy

“Dam It! is mesmerizing. The book’s many photos make the story jump off the pages. You don’t have to be a veteran of the business to be fascinated by the intriguing details of the history and impact of hydro plants. Happy reading!”
Warren Witt, Director of Hydro Operations, Ameren

“No technical degree required to enjoy this lively, and often quite personal, account of the building of an industry and of the nation. Full of fascinating insights, fast-paced, and well-written.”
Barry Posner, Chair of Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, Santa Clara University