I, like many others, have heard the name of Tesla and knew that he was far-sighted and a great inventor. Many rock fans will remember the group "Tesla" and their album "The Great Radio Controversy". I only mention this because I feel it opened the door for a great many young people to have an interest in Tesla.
This book was engrossing from start to finish. The number of patents, the ideas he presented so far ahead of his time and the inventions he brought forth literally changed the world. He does not get credit for most of what he did. He was just recently added to the Smithsonian Museum for his invention of the radio which many still believe was invented by Marconi. And children are still taught in school that "Thomas Edison invented electricity" but in fact the type of of electrity we use today was put forth by Tesla.
His awesome intelligence invented so many components of micro technology that inventors for years after did not comprehend. For instance, this book brings for the facts that "Inventors of modern computer technology in the last half of the twentieth century repeatedly have been surprised, when seeking patents, to encounter Tesla's basic ones, already on file."
To list Nikola Tesla's ideas, discoveries and inventions would take an entire book in itself but some included the Atom Smasher, X-Rays, Radio, electro-magnetic power, AC electricity, Solar Heating, Vacuum Tubes, Remote Control Vehicles, Torpedoes, Force Fields, Microwave Transmissions, Diathormy, High Voltage Conducters, Wireless Communications, World Wide Broadcasting Systems, Flying Saucers, Transisters, The Atomic Clock, Cosmic Rays, Phosphorescent Lighting, The Heating Pat, Robots, Liquid Oxygen, Under Ground Power LInes, Cryogenics, Radar, Guided Missiles, Automobile Speedometer, Highway Systems, Parking Garages, Interplanetary Communications, Laser Beams, Death Rays, Modern Warfare, Geothermal Steam Plants, and the list can go on and on. He once produced an earth quake in New York City and blew out electric plants in Colorado with his experiments. He was so far ahead of his time that the US Air Force is still researching his ideas and the US Government, in posession of his papers, denies that they have any of his notes. What they did acknowledge they had is still classified.
Nikola Tesla was a dapper man who spoke eight languages fluently and onced signed away riches for the benefit of a friend (George Westinghouse) who had supported him in the past. He was a naturalized U.S. citizen and this he considered his greatest accomplishement. His experiments through most of his life were constanty in need of funds and he approached the US Government several times. One can only wonder what might have come of his knowledge if the government had agreed to fund him. Thankfully his devotion was to the United States because both Russia and Germany approached him and he turned them down. As it turns out the US Government expressed much more interest in his experiments after his death than when he was alive. Apparently taking his notes and classifying them and also moving forward in his ideas.
This book presents a great overview with a little insight into his experiments. It covers the man, the experiments, his friends and his times. It's a great introduction to Nikola Tesla and I highly recommend it to anyone who is searching for the truth about historic inventions. Big companies and powerful men continued to keep Tesla's inventions either ignored, ridiculed (until later knowledge proved them right) or stolen so he could not profit to the full extent that he should have. A study in the down side of capitalism.
Buy this book, open your ideas, enjoy history and think about what you have been taught. Fascinating!
Alan A. Donovan
Cheney paints a rich portrait of the character of Nikola Tesla, Mad Scientist---or at least Eccentric Inventor, providing ample detail of his bizarre manners, his proficiency at gambling and billiards, his astonishing hubris, his society appearances, and his (putative) unrequited love.
However, Tesla was foremost an inventor, not an eccentric, and so the content and context of his inventions should be foremost in any biography of him. It's clear that despite this being Cheney's second book on Tesla, she simply does not understand the technical content of Tesla's work. For the reader, this is merely unfortunate. What is inexcusable, and intellectually dishonest, is that Cheney plagiarizes the writings of Tesla himself---unattributed verbatim copying---to provide explanations where she herself is unable. And not even good ones, at that.
Here are two examples. The first appears on page 37 and refers to Tesla's bladeless turbine:
What he built was a cylinder freely rotatable on two bearings and partly surrounded by a rectangular trough which fit it perfectly. The open side of the trough was closed by a partition and the cylindrical segment divided into two compartments entirely separated from each other by airtight sliding joints. One of these compartments being sealed and exhausted of air, the other remaining open, perpetual rotation of the cylinder would result---or so the inventor thought.
This paragraph was lifted verbatim from "My Inventions" by Nikola Tesla (Filiquarian, 2006; p. 32) without attribution. (In the original, the last words were "at least, I thought so".) The latter work by Tesla, a brief autobiography only recently published, does not appear to have been available in print when Cheney's book was written; perhaps Cheney was assuming none of her readers also had access to the manuscript.
The second example is even stranger. In an explanation of Tesla's "magnifying transmitter" appearing on page 147, Cheney writes:
He considered the ultimate design to be a transformer having a secondary in which the parts, charged to a high potential, were of considerable area and arranged in space along ideal enveloping surfaces of very large radii of curvature, thereby insuring a small electric surface density everywhere. Thus no leak could occur even if the conductor were bare.
I read this impenetrable paragraph half a dozen times before finally giving up trying to make sense of it. I wasn't sure if it was my lack of physics expertise, or Cheney's lack of explicatory clarity that was to blame. When I reached page 175, I was in no doubt. Cheney writes:
"Well, then, in the first place", he wrote, "it is a resonant transformer with a secondary in which the parts, charged to a high potential, are of considerable area and arranged in space along ideal enveloping surfaces of very large radii of curvature, and at proper distances from one another, thereby insuring a small electric surface density everywhere so that no leak can occur even if the conductor is bare."
What is astonishing here is not only that Cheney so wantonly plagiarizes Tesla's writing, but that she also (correctly) characterizes his explanation as "tantalizingly vague"---having shamelessly used the exact same explanation herself only 30 pages earlier.
In his introduction, Leland Anderson asks why anyone should wish to undertake another biography of Tesla after John J. O'Neill's "Prodigal Genius" (1943). He concludes that O'Neill's biography was "authoritative" but "thin with regard to his interactions with personal associates". Perhaps Cheney's "Man out of Time" might fill that particular gap, but it is certainly not authoritative, and her (and her publisher's) sloppiness are embarrassing.
I recommend that readers with a technical interest in Tesla's work look elsewhere.
Tesla was such a fascinating scientist -- trailblazing, mysterious and quirky -- that it would be hard to write a boring book about him. Cheney's bio, however, makes a valiant attempt.
Her material is poorly organized. She jumps back and forth in time, from the young Tesla to the old Tesla, with no warning or pattern. She jumps around in subjects almost as willfully. Her treatment of Tesla is reverent and laudatory one minute, dismissive and belittling the next.
She gives almost no firm dates, so I found myself often bewildered about exactly which Tesla was being discussed. Her description of Tesla's science makes it clear that she was no scientist herself, and in fact makes Tesla's accomplishments all the harder to decipher. And most damning of all, she alludes to Tesla's odd habits and personal quirks, but never once comes right out and describes them.
Tesla's story makes for a fascinating biography, but Cheney's may not be it.
William Van Hefner
The best biography written on one of the most amazing men of the 20th century, or perhaps of all-time.
Nikola Tesla was one of the world's greatest inventors, and definitely its most mysterious. To say that Telsa was ahead of his time is putting it rather mildly. Most of his inventions were so advanced that the public had a difficult time grasping just how important they really were.
Although Marconi is often credited with the invention of radio, the real credit goes entirely to Tesla. A long-running battle between the two ended when American courts essentially invalidated Marconi's radio patent, and awarded credit for the invention to Nikola Telsla.
In addition to radio, Tesla also invented Alternating Current (AC), which is the form of electricity used to deliver power to most homes and businesses on earth. He also patented hundreds of other inventions, many of which are in use today. Others are yet to be understood by modern scientists.
Probably just as fascinating as Tesla's inventions was Telsa himself though. He was the original, real-life "mad scientist", and often discussed his invention of the "death ray" with the popular press. The world has never seen an inventor the likes of Nikola Tesla, and may never see one again. This book is a fascinating look at an amazing individual.
This book reads more like a very long feature article for a newspaper than a biography. Nikola Tesla is fascinating because of his revolutionary and fantastical ideas. He never became rich and powerful because he was too busy racking up incredible new ideas, and never converted his ideas to commercial use (like his nemesis Thomas Edison). Tesla invented alternating current, and had a chance to make royalties from each and every use of AC by the public (potentially worth billions), but signed the royalties away to preserve his friendships with industrial titans. He discovered most of the concepts of radio, but lost a messy war of words and patent lawsuits with Marconi and Edison. He invented remote control and key aspects of robotics, and envisioned (in the late 1800's) a worldwide wireless communications system that companies are still trying to develop to this day. In fact, modern scientists often "discover" new phenomena that Tesla brought up so long ago that nobody remembers his work and fails to give him credit. This is why Tesla continues to be so under-appreciated. On the more outlandish side, Tesla theorized that he could utilize the electrical charges in the Earth's atmosphere to turn the entire planet into a giant fluorescent light bulb; and with his concept of mechanical resonance he theorized that he could create vibrations to destroy buildings or even split the Earth in two. He could electrify the Earth itself and make the soil crackle for miles around. This was when people started calling him a madman. Another interesting aspect of Tesla was his participation is high society, as he spent much of his life schmoozing rich benefactors for capital. Few scientists of his caliber today would be such social climbers.
Now what kind of a mind would lead to such a fascinating personality and such incredible ideas? You still can't tell, because Margaret Cheney fails to illuminate Tesla the man in this book. This biography is essentially the work of a reporter who has rehashed freely available information into the form of a special interest article in a local newspaper. There is more focus on Tesla's social calls and financial transactions than his ideas or personality. The book often digresses into useless detective work on the handling of Tesla's papers by various government agencies after his death, or descriptions of the current use of his ideas that read more like bizarre advertisements for the modern companies involved. One of the few attempts to provide insight into his personality is a completely ridiculous treatise stating that Tesla's hobby of caring for pigeons is related to a lack of breastfeeding as a baby. Of course, more information on how Tesla came up with his amazing ideas, and the workings of his unusual mind, is probably impossible to obtain, and this is not Cheney's fault. However, this biography is not very useful without it.