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Oct. 15th, 2014

W. Bernard Carlson's Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age is a fair, balanced, and sober biography of Nikola Tesla, a man of extensive and rather varied reputation. It is a study of his approach to invention, but it also looks in some detail at other research and patents in the fields in which Tesla worked. I can't say it's a particularly *gripping* read, but I've come to think that, with a character as sensational and romanticized as Tesla, a certain dryness (in, for instance, descriptions of engines and notes about how Tesla's ideas were different from those of others) is more than forgivable.

Tesla is fashionable right now and is often considered to have been "a man before his time". What Carlson's book does well, I think, is establish a context for what "his time" was, and how receptive it was to new kinds of ideas. It investigates how Tesla developed, tested, and promoted his inventions (sometimes, in a way compatible with business interests of his patrons, sometimes not; early in his career, promoting them to electrical engineers and other specialists, later increasingly to popular press, etc), looks at his role in the establishment of the Niagara power station (in particular, his influence in getting it running with alternating current), and talks about a few of his patents. He's shown very much as a human being: brilliant, eccentric, flawed -- but this is a biography told through ideas more than through simple life facts.

By the way, even while reading this serious and thoughtful book, one doesn't forget that this is Tesla, The Wizard, the ultimate mad scientist we are talking about. Here, for instance, is an episode from when one of his patrons declined to further support him in building a laboratory and a tower at Wardenclyffe to transmit wireless power through the Earth (most of what was needed has already been built): "Angry, Tesla expressed his frustration by cranking up the power at Wardenclyffe and hurling lightning bolts. As the New York Sun reported, Tesla's neighbors witnessed 'all sorts of lightning ... from the tall tower. ... For a time the air was filled with blinding streaks of electricity which seemed to shoot off into the darkness on some mysterious errand. The display continued until after midnight.'" Elsewhere, death rays are mentioned as well. This is indeed the Tesla we have heard about.

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Comments

earilian
Oct. 16th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
Интересно. Вообще читать про него очень увлекательно, на ютубе так же куча фильмов. Очень колоритная личность