621: Tesla by Margaret Cheney

by Gerard


621.3092: Cheney, Margaret. Tesla: Man Out of Time. New York: Touchstone, 2001. 354 pp. ISBN 978-0-7432-1536-7.

Dewey Construction:

  • 600: Technology
  • 620: Engineering and allied operation
  • 621: Applied physics
  • 621.3: Electrical, magnetic, optical, communications, or computer engineering
  • +092: Biography

For fifty years, the scientific and public community simply forgot about one of its own. He helped to usher in a fantastic age of electrical devices, invented a machine that could wirelessly transmit power, and created a pocket-sized device that could destroy a building with just waves. The good thing is, we have know come to love and respect this great tinkerer. And Margaret Cheney writes him a very passable biography: he was Nikola Tesla.

Born in Smiljan, Croatia in 1856, Tesla was able to perform calculus in his head at age 14. This combined with a dazzling feat of engineering that saved the village led his father to enroll him at Austrian Polytechnic. There, he excelled in all the sciences, became addicted to gambling, and suffered a nervous breakdown all in the span of five years. In 1882, he began working for the Continental Edison Company in France, later moving to the US to work directly for the Wizard of Menlo Park.

After Edison refused to pay for a legitimate and masterful fix to one of his inefficient designs, Tesla vowed to never for or with him ever again. This falling out led to neither of them receiving the Nobel Prize when they both so clearly deserved it. Over the next 60 years, Tesla went on to perfect many electromagnetic devices, experiment with resonant sound waves and X-rays, and gain the upper hand in radio and wireless inventions. He dreamed of creating a tower capable of both transmitting radio signals and free power to anywhere on the planet.

Tesla’s genius has finally come into its own these days, as almost all practicing scientists acknowledge both Tesla’s contributions and superiority to Edison. Many inventors now still find that Tesla beat them to a particular electric design or element. Cheney’s biography is full of many interesting anecdotes and personal letters, but there are times where it deifies its subject rather than explain it. Tesla, for all his inventiveness, was still a very flawed, bombastic, and neurotic human being. This book, however, will give you a very good understanding of his age and work.