Alexis Madrigal

Deputy Editor, TheAtlantic.com
Author, Powering The Dream

Cutting edge perspectives on the future of the media and human interaction with emerging technologies.

Add to Shortlist Atlantic Column @alexismadrigal

Biography

Future Facts 2020
In this fascinating glimpse of the future, Alexis looks at not only where we will be and what we will be doing, but also what that means. This talk covers topics as diverse as the Occupy Wall Street movement to the future of work and microinvesting. Alexis will tailor the talk to any audience or industry.
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Alexis Madrigal is deputy editor for TheAtlantic.com where he launched their new Techology Channel. He is the lead writer as well as host. Alexis is co-creator of Longshot magazine, a publication created in 48 hours with the help of new internet tools and hundreds of people submitting content thru the internet. The magazine was awarded the 2010 Knight-Batten Award for innovation.

Alexis is author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. His research has recovered amazing stories of green technological experimentation from the past. As Alexis explains, many of these moments were forks in the road on the way to our present society and they demonstrate what is possible. Chosen as Required Reading by Outside magazine.

Formerly, Alexis followed science and technology for Wired.com and was a major contributor to its blog Wired Science. During his tenure there, he helped build Wired Science into the largest science blog in the world, with millions of visitors per month.

Wired Science was nominated for best magazine blog by the Magazine Publishers of America and Best Science Website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He was a major part of Wired.com’s 2008 Webby award for "Best Writing" and he hosted the popular Wired Science video podcast. His article, "Telegraphs Ran on Electric Air in Crazy 1859 Magnetic Storm", is included in The Best Technology Writing 2010 issue (Yale University Press). Alexis is also co-creator of Haiti Rewired, a collaborative community focused on technology and infrastructure solutions for the future of Haiti.

His work appears in Dwell, Earth2Tech, Sustainable Industries Journal and regularly on NPR. He has spoken at SXSW, E3 and Webvisions, among other events.

With Sarah Rich, Alexis cofounded The San Francisco Post-Chronicle, a wiki dedicated to building a new model for the daily news organization of the future, as a response to the problems facing his own home newspaper, The San Francisco Chronicle. He can speak on the future of journalism.

He is a leading writer with a unique and hopeful perspective on green technology and its business potential. Trained as an analyst, he is defining how technology is changing human beings' brains, consumption patterns, and environments.

From a completely different point of departure than other thought leaders in the field, Alexis looks at the history of past alternative energy breakthroughs. He is the leading authority on this lost history in America—why these innovations have been forgotten, what we can learn from them, and how that history can help us build a greener future.

Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology

The past is full of creative green technologies and ideas that never made it. Alexis Madrigal's new book is about these breakthroughs—what happened to them, what they teach us, and what they might contribute to a greener, more sustainable future.

On his Green Tech Timeline, the history starts with the first windmill built in the American colonies in 1621 by George Yeardley. He highlights people like John Adolphus Etzler, who, in 1833, advocated capturing solar, tidal and wind power to create an American utopia. He chronicles how coal and oil won the battle for energy production in America, and the energy crises that have followed. He analyzes the forces that have shaped the energy and utility industries. And he recovers the innovations in solar, steam, and wind that point, not just to an alternative course of energy development that never happened, but also toward a more sustainable future that still could.

Outside magazine put Powering the Dream in its REQUIRED READING heading.

"But better batteries won't be enough to charge the future argues Alexis Madrigal in the beautifully wrought Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology (Da Capo). With an eye to misfires in America's past, including the electric carriages and solar water heaters of the early 20th century—failures that were more sociological than technological—he astutely points to what it might take: technocrats wise enough to see that we need to reinvent not just our technology but our relationship with it."
— McKenzie Funk, Outside
   

"It’s refreshing to read a history book whose intent is to improve decisions in the present and near future."
— Stewart Brand, President of The Long Now Foundation

"The entrepreneurs and advocates pushing green technology today are inheritors of a rich history of innovation, experiment, accident ... and occasionally farce. That history, too rarely told, is at the heart of Alexis Madrigal’s absorbing, often astonishing new book."
— David Roberts, Grist

"Madrigal manages—without any gonzo shenanigans—to engage and sometimes even electrify the reader with lean and jaunty prose, skillful storytelling, analytic theorizing, and a proficiency in factual gee-whizzery...He makes the dream of a perfect power source seem all the more urgent, now that we know for how long, and in how many past episodes, it’s been deferred."
— Bookforum

Longshot magazine

Alexis is co-creator of Longshot magazine, a publication created in 48 hours with the help new internet tools and hundreds of people submitting content. Longshot was awarded the 2010 Knight-Batten Award for innovation. Alexis and his partners use the latest internet tools and social media to gather the countries top writers, photographers, illustrators and designers to create the magazine. From theme to printing, this bold new project will use new tools to publish a magazine in two days. Stay tuned for announcement of the next issue.

Articles about Longshot:

Credentials

  • Deputy Editor, The Atlantic.com
  • Host, TheAtlantic.com’s Technology Channel
  • Co-creator, Longshot Magazine
  • Former staff writer, Science and Energy, Wired
  • Co-creator, Haiti Rewired
  • Visiting scholar, Office for the History of Science and Technology, UC-Berkeley
  • Magazine Publishers of America, Website of the Year
  • Magazine Publishers of America, Best Magazine Blog Finalist
  • Cofounder, The San Francisco Post-Chronicle
  • BA, magna cum laude, Harvard University

Books

Powering The Dream

The History and Promise of Green Technology

Alexis Madrigal

John Etzler was probably crazy, but not so much more than your average futurist… We know him best for a slim, cockeyed volume he wrote in the 1830s. Filled with mental sketches for tremendous machines… his book rests on an insight still blooming — sun and wind and waves are the sources of infinite power.

From award-winning technology writer Alexis Madrigal, the first book to explore both the forgotten history and the visionary future of America’s green-tech innovation.

Few today realize that electric cabs dominated Manhattan’s streets in the 1890s; that Boise, Idaho, had a geothermal heating system in 1910; or that the first megawatt turbine in the world was built in 1941 by the son of publishing magnate G.P. Putnam — a feat that would not be duplicated for another forty years. Likewise, while many remember the oil embargo of the 1970s, few are aware that it led to a corresponding explosion in green-technology research that was only derailed when energy prices later dropped.

In other words: We’ve been here before. Although we may have failed, America has had the chance to put our world on a more sustainable path. Americans have, in fact, been inventing green for more than a century.

Half compendium of lost opportunities, half hopeful look toward the future, Powering the Dream tells the stories of the brilliant, often irascible inventors who fore saw our current problems, tried to invent cheap and energy-renewable solutions, and drew the blueprint for a green future.

Da Capo Press; First Trade Paper Edition (February 5, 2013)
Da Capo Press (March 29, 2011)

Excerpts

Nuclear HazeGuenica Magazine
Why America Doesn't Have a Respectable Solar IndustryGizmodo
Think Globally, Destroy Locally: Environmentalism for the 21st CenturyThe Atlantic
The Electric Taxi Company You Could Have Called in 1900The Atlantic

Interview

A Talk with Alexis MadrigalDeCapo

Reviews

Powering the Dreamon earth
Read ThisBoingBoing
Powerful StuffOutside
Green Dreams: Lost and FoundConservation
The history & promise of greentechGrist

Praise

"It’s refreshing to read a history book whose intent is to improve decisions in the present and near future."
— Stewart Brand, President of The Long Now Foundation

"The entrepreneurs and advocates pushing green technology today are inheritors of a rich history of innovation, experiment, accident ... and occasionally farce. That history, too rarely told, is at the heart of Alexis Madrigal’s absorbing, often astonishing new book."
— David Roberts, Grist

"Madrigal manages — without any gonzo shenanigans — to engage and sometimes even electrify the reader with lean and jaunty prose, skillful storytelling, analytic theorizing, and a proficiency in factual gee-whizzery. . .He makes the dream of a perfect power source seem all the more urgent, now that we know for how long, and in how many past episodes, it’s been deferred."
— Bookforum

“Part history of America’s use of green technologies, part history of our relationship with that technology, and part hope for the future…On all these counts, the book is successful…Recommended for general readers with an interest in America’s past, present, and future relationship with green technology.”
Library Journal

“[Madrigal is] a master at autopsies of promising yet deceased technologies.”
Mother Jones

“[An] excellent new book...Madrigal shows that American policy toward green energy has been a mess, long before this new batch of Republicans went into Congress fixed on dismantling environmental protections.”
TIME

“In a world reeling from the news of the nuclear plant failures at Fukushima, no book could be more timely than Alexis Madrigal’s Powering the Dream. Headlines filled with nuclear disaster and soaring oil prices have reignited the energy debate while news stories about alternative energy focus almost exclusively on the sexiest new technology. What’s lacking is contextual background and perspective. Powering the Dream provides that…This book is far from a dull scientific read. Mr. Madrigal is a storyteller. He seems naturally drawn to the drama of success and failure and the fascinating eccentrics and visionaries that taken part in the battle of energy technologies…Those who are concerned about the future of energy and the environment will find Powering the Dream a very informative and useful resource.”
New York Journal of Books

“Madrigal's tour of the forgotten history of green technology is more than just an entertaining jaunt back through time…The history he documents is instructive to our current energy policy debate.”
The Atlantic

“Madrigal seems to understand better than most writers on this topic that capitalism itself can be the great growth engine producing better and greener technology…Madrigal’s willingness to consider the many green-tech attempts of the past, most of them failed but so many of them fascinating, is a refreshing change from the doomsday scenarios so common in alternative-energy writing…His belief that solutions can be found, and that the past may hold the key to coming up with a better future, is salutary and most welcome.”
— InfoDad.com

“Personable and engaging…Refreshingly, it’s not a depressing, we’ve completely screwed up the planet kind of book. There’s an optimism that shines through...In the end, Madrigal writes a book that works on many levels. While not particularly scholarly, his simple statements…do ask audiences to think critically, his chapter openings are catchy, and his optimism gives readers hope that it’s not too late to find greener technologies.”
— PopMatters.com

“A wonderfully interesting book, and while it may be in parts a cautionary tale about unintended consequences, it is also a valuable history lesson. And the depth of research is astounding, especially as the author connects information to illustrate how nearly all-things-energy came to be…While addressing readers in every-day language, Madrigral's index and bibliography (each with more than twenty pages of listings) provides evidence of the breadth of his scholarly research and the validity of his historical references…Madrigal also does an excellent job in outlining the characters behind technical innovation…To finish Powering the Dream is to find oneself optimistic, pessimistic, a bit cynical, and nursing a small flame of hope that the same hubris, ambition, and the desire to live a better life for ourselves and our children that got us into this mess will get us out.”
Internet Review of Book

“Madrigal records a century and a half of American energy innovation — such as electric taxicabs in 1900 — and imagines the future.”
St. Petersburg Times

“Madrigal skillfully uses stories from the past to illustrate both the follies and successes of the present. In doing so, he places some of the environmental madness we’re experiencing now in perspective.”
— January

“Inspiring…The first book to explore both the forgotten history and the visionary future of America’s green-tech innovators.”
Hudson Valley News

“Well-thought-out ideas about how to advance low-cost green technology.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer

“A quiet page-turner that anyone concerned with our future energy policy — or lack thereof — should read…Madrigal is a talented wordsmith and astute researcher with an eye for ferreting out the ‘need-to-know’ minutia in a complicated world of energy giants, green pioneers and international trading markets.”
Print

“[An] eye opening and very engaging book…A celebration of the spirit of innovation and its many successes and failures…Well researched…Fascinating and thought provoking…This book will change the way you think about green technology, and its past, present, and future.”
— Blog Business World

Topics

Alexis tailors each presentation to the needs of his audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest his range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Future Facts 2020

Green Technology

Videos

Why Startups Need To Solve Real Problems Again

Feedback

A non-profit organization and leader in the renewable energy community:
I am writing to tell you that Alexis Madrigal was a hit at our 2012 Clean Energy [...] Conference held in Albany last month. Evaluations ranked his presentation very high. He brought important information and insight to the attendees and held their attention for a full hour. Alexis was great with the content, his demeanor, and his interaction with the audience. I am a very happy customer. Please extend my deepest thanks to Alexis for starting our conference off on such a high and positive note.

Here's an overview of the conference's demographics: We had strong representation from all parts of the country with attendees representing 33 states. Thirty-five percent came from community and four-year colleges, 25% from nonprofits and workforce boards, 15% from industry, 8% from government, and the remaining from a variety of public and private organizations.

A major midwest university:
We felt it went really well. The audience really liked the presentation, and quite a few copies of his book sold as well (we had the University Bookstore on hand selling them). He was a great fit for the conference and I felt that the process overall went very smoothly – from the arrangements through you, as well as him being a very easy to please speaker.

Articles

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How a dream team of engineers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google built the software that drove Barack Obama's reelection.

— Wired

This article was included in The Best Technology Writing series published by Yale University Press.