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Hardcover | $27.95 Trade | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780262013741 | 304 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 26 b&w illus.| January 2010
Paperback | $16.95 Trade | £11.95 | ISBN: 9780262525077 | 304 pp. | 5.375 x 8 in | 26 b&w illus.| September 2013
eBook | $11.95 Trade | ISBN: 9780262288323 | 304 pp. | 26 b&w illus.| January 2010
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When the Lights Went Out

A History of Blackouts in America


Where were you when the lights went out? At home during a thunderstorm? During the Great Northeastern Blackout of 1965? In California when rolling blackouts hit in 2000? In 2003, when a cascading power failure left fifty million people 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 and a series of blackouts from military blackouts to the “greenout” (exemplified by the new tradition of “Earth Hour”), a 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.

About the Author

David E. Nye is Professor of American Studies at the Danish Institute of Advanced Study at the University of Southern Denmark. He is the author of Technology Matters: Questions to Live With and When the Lights Went Out: A History of Blackouts in America, both published by the MIT Press, and other books.


"David Nye's history of blackouts in America is much more than a history of these events. What he has given us is an insightful and often surprising social and cultural history of our relationship to, and increasing dependence on, electricity and its unseen grid."
Paul Israel, Director and General Editor, Thomas A. Edison Papers Project, Rutgers University

"Meticulously researched and engagingly written, When the Lights Went Out is part history and part cautionary tale. David Nye illumines his subject with such insight and skill that a reader won't ever be able to flip on an electrical switch without thinking of this book and its consequential message."
Robert Schmuhl, Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair in American Studies and Journalism, University of Notre Dame

"Fifteen years ago, David Nye's groundbreaking Electrifying America showed us how the social, cultural, and political terrain shifted when the lights went on. Now he shows us what happened When the Lights Went Outa must-read for anyone who lived through or just heard about the big-city blackouts of 1965 onward and wonders what they meant."
Arthur P. Molella, Director, Smithsonian Lemelson Center