Praise for High Tension

Riggs tells "a story that mingles business and politics at the highest level.... The meat of the saga, however, is the decades-long struggle to end the financial legerdemain that infested the electricity business, which constructed pyramid schemes with up to 10 levels of holding companies owning holding companies, all designed to divert profits to top financiers."
— Washington Independent Review of Books
Read the full review here.

"an 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

"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
The Innovators, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Steve Jobs

"High Tension vividly tells of FDR's struggle to control giant utility holding companies, build government dams, and electrify rural America. He took on powerful interests and reshaped the electricity system as a novel public-private enterprise— a legacy that continues to this day. John A. Riggs tells an important story with relevance today, from reinventing electricity regulation to accommodate new clean energy technology to offering lessons for universal broadband access."
— Ernest J. Moniz, US Secretary of Energy,
2013-17; CEO Energy Futures Initiative

"Electricity was the internet of its day— and bringing it to the countryside affected more Americans than any other New Deal program. It was also the source of a bitter struggle between public and private power, full of 'high tension'— the double entendre title of John A. Riggs's lucid and compelling tale. This is a fresh angle of vision on one of the most important and underappreciated stories of the first half of the twentieth century."
— Jonathan Alter, author of
The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

"High Tension 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). John A. 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."
— Martin J. Sherwin, Pulitzer Prize-winning co-author of
American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer

"Narrative history at its best. Riggs brings FDR to life as he gathers a team of brilliant and eccentric New Dealers to battle for public power, rural electrification, and the abolition of holding companies. The industry fights back with a coalition of stock manipulators and free enterprise proponents led by a remarkable advocate named Wendell Willkie."
— Bruce Babbitt, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, 1992-2000

"The story of electrification is the story we must return to, over and over again, to understand what it really means to build a public utility. Our age, like every age, has its essential services, and as John A. Riggs demonstrates, getting it right does not happen by accident, nor without a fight, but demands great political courage."
— Tim Wu, Professor, Columbia Law School; New York Times contributing opinion writer;
and author of The Curse of Bigness: Antitrustt in the New Gilded Age

"Electric utilities are fascinating combinations of economics, technology, and politics. Somehow all three have to be kept in harness for utility companies to succeed. Mr. Riggs explores the interplay of these factors in one of the most complex periods in the history of the industry. Good reading for anyone who likes the lights to come on and the computer to work."
— John Rowe, former CEO of Commonwealth Edison and Exelon

"A valuable resource dealing with a largely— and undeservedly— ignored slice of FDR's New Deal agenda, but also of American history and, indeed, of all human progress."
— David Pietrusza, author of 1948: Harry Truman's
Improbable Victory and the Year That Transformed America

"John A. Riggs gives us a fresh look at the people and politics that brought electricity to virtually all Americans, shaped today's economy, and powered the Arsenal of Democracy that led to victory in World War II. High Tension is a strong reminder of Edmund Burke's eighteenth-century admonition that 'politics ought to be adjusted, not to human reasoning, but to human nature, of which the reason is a part.'"
— Charles B. Curtis, Chairman,
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 1977-81

"The US electric system not only underpins our economy, but also our way of life. Yet most Americans know nothing about its history. This story of a critical era in the development of the US power sector is a riveting tale of inventors, entrepreneurs, politics, legal battles, and shenanigans. The reader will come away with a new appreciation for what we take for granted."
— Elizabeth Moler, Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner, 1988-97, Chair, 1993-97;
Deputy US Energy Secretary 1997-98, Acting Secretary, 1998

"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 twentieth 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."
— John F. Wasik, author of The Merchant of Power: Thomas Edison,
Samuel Insull and the Creation of the Modern Metropolis

"You don't have to be a utility expert to enjoy reading this book. It is so well written and provides so many fascinating insights into the politics of electrifying the nation at the turn of the 20th Century and through WWII. Those living in cities were, of course, the first to get electricity in their homes, but so many farms and homes in rural areas were left out of the picture until the government through the Tennessee Valley Authority and Bonneville Power Authority began to ensure everyone would have access to electricity. The public vs private sector fights, which persist today in so many issues, played out so profoundly around utilities and who owned them - private sector investors, municipalities or the federal government.

FDR was a strong proponent of a more assertive government role and because of that, he gained enormous public support, which helped launch his political career. And, his Republican opponent in the 1940 Presidential election, Wendell Wilkie, became well-known because of his role in fighting for private sector ownership of utilities. The author maintains an objective frame for this discussion allowing the reader to draw his/her own conclusions about which approach makes the most sense. He is meticulous, however, in pointing out the abuses of the private sector through its use of multi-layered holding companies and he makes clear the importance of regulation and competition from the government to ensure affordable access to electricity during these early and formative days of electrification.

The author brings a keen intellect, a deep commitment to accuracy and detail, and more than 4 decades of rich policy and teaching experience to this book and it shows in every clear and superbly written page. It's a subject we generally take for granted, but most of us have no idea how it came to be so widespread and the role of so many dedicated people in making that happen. I can't recommend this book highly enough. I am not an expert on these issues, but from the moment I opened the book, I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. Read it! You'll be entertained and better informed after reading this timely and important book."

Stephen McConnell,
Amazon reviewer

High Tension  FDR's Battle to Power America