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(cover by Susan Erony)

Boss Kettering: The Wizard of General Motors by Stuart W. Leslie (126,000 words, 25 illustrations)

Recipient of the Columbia University prize in American Economic History in honor of Allan Nevins.

“The life story of Charles F. Kettering seems unblemished by any episode that would shake anyone’s faith (least of all Kettering’s) in the American Way. ‘America’s most famous and wealthiest engineer’ was hired in 1904 by the National Cash Register Company as an ‘inventor.’ He moved onward and upward to become research chief of General Motors, and when he died in 1958 at 82, he was justly honored for myriad achievements and very rich to boot. Kettering was the great improver of the automobile, the machine that we embraced above all as the fulfillment of the democratic and commercial promise of technology...
Boss Kettering is written from newly explored primary sources and is the best sketch so far of a man of many unfamiliar facets... In 1909 [Kettering] quit NCR to set up with an engineer colleague... the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company (better known as Delco)... to enter the challenging field of automobiles. His best-known creation was the electric self-starter, but it was only one of dozens of key improvements patented by Delco’s chemical, metallurgical and chemical staffs. In 1918 General Motors bought out the operation and merged research departments... As ‘the Boss’ of [G.M.’s] large research staff, Kettering developed leaded gasoline (polluting but efficient) to eliminate ‘knock,’ Freon refrigerants (G.M. owned Frigidaire), superior diesel engines for locomotives, Duco enamels for car bodies and many other products that enhanced the fortunes of the G.M. and Du Pont corporations... Boss Kettering deserves thoughtful scrutiny by anyone who wants to understand the cultural context of invention in the mass-production age.” — Bernard A. Weisberger, The New York Times

“Kettering, who set up and for many years directed the General Motors Research Corporation, was widely recognized as the greatest America inventor and engineer since Thomas Edison... [an] absorbing biography.” — Edwin McDowell,
The New York Times

“[A] major scholarly biography... Among the many merits of Leslie's study is the skill with which he probes and illuminates Kettering’s long and brilliant career... Leslie discerningly analyzes the strengths and limitations inherent in his subject’s convictions and leadership style... Leslie has combined an impressive amount of research in previously untapped primary sources, a sure grasp of scientific and technical detail, and a convincing sense of Kettering's human characteristics to excellent effect... this solid and superior study amply deserves the favorable recognition it has received, and it will serve as a model for future scholarship in the history of industrial research.” — W. David Lewis,

“Charles F. Kettering has deserved an authoritative, scholarly biography; he now has it... Describing and evaluating [Kettering’s] varied activities, and doing so with clarity and judgment, constituted a formidable challenge to Stuart Leslie, but he has met it with distinction.” — John B. Rae,
Technology and Culture

“In this well-researched, prize-winning book, Leslie deals with Kettering fairly, pointing out his failings and limitations as well as his many triumphs.” — John Barnard,
Indiana Magazine of History