Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), credited as the inspiration for radio, robots, and even radar, has been called the patron saint of modern electricity. Based on original material and previously unavailable documents, this acclaimed book is the definitive biography of the man considered by many to be the founding father of modern electrical technology. Among Tesla's creations were the channeling of alternating current, fluorescent and neon lighting, wireless telegraphy, and the giant turbines that harnessed the power of Niagara Falls.
©1996 Marc J. Seifer (P)2011 Tantor
"Seifer's vivid, revelatory, exhaustively researched biography rescues pioneer inventor Nikola Tesla from cult status and restores him to his rightful place as a principal architect of the modern age." (Publishers Weekly)
I really enjoyed the honest and open way that the author approaches Tesla's life. And the narrator did a great job using different voice inflections and tones to characterize the many interacting people while reading their letters. This book inspired me to appreciate even more the contributions of this amazing Engineer and Inventor, particularly because he was portrayed as a human being, someone I can relate to. I strongly recommend it!
I enjoyed this biography for its detailed descriptions of Tesla's influences, relationships and projects. The author put Tesla in the context of his era and the narrator was well chosen for the book.
A very detailed look at the genius mind from resonance to antisemitism and hallucinations. From the war of currents to death rays.
We all prefer better stories, ones that succeed... Tesla was a difficult read because his brilliance was drowned by a lack of business savvy. The writer took way too long on many aspects of his life, and it was one that I would have rather learned via wikipedia than something this long.
I tried and tried, but couldn't bring myself to finish the book.
This was a very long book, rather longer than my usual audiobook undertakings. It covered anything and everything you could think of relative to the life of the great inventor and overambitious thinker who most people have never heard of despite the numerous technological advances he made which we rely upon today. I had heard of him previously numerous times, via both fact and fiction. For one, I have studied physics, and if nothing else, he has a unit of measurement named after him. Second, I grew up near Colorado Springs and the sites where he did his experiments at Pike's Peak. My fictional knowledge of him came from the movie The Prestige and the tv series Warehouse 13, both of which drew on his advanced technological work and mad-scientist/wizard persona. I break my review up here based on the three parts which audible parsed, just for more ease.
Part one covered his childhood through 1894, when he was really starting to make it big, and so far so good. The intro on the history of his homeland and culture was a bit tedious and beyond my interest, and I have never learned about the goings on of those empires and people's before, so it was hard to keep track of unfamiliar and alike-sounding names and unknown regions on a map. But there were interesting stories of his family, his days growing up and at university; he had quite the series of trials trying to support himself, even once in America. I began to root for him to get his first footholds and recognition then, but already saw the signs of his faults (i.e. major lack of fiscal responsibility, and poor contract making) which I foresaw hurting him more and more as he went. I hadn't realized he spent a short time actually working for Edison before their philosophies clashed... which lead into the discussion of the major AC vs DC argument and professional competition between Edison and Westinghouse. I knew there had been one, but had not nearly a clue to what extent and cause... Seems to me Westinghouse had better business sense and foresight while Edison just had better PR. Anyway, the section on the Chicago Worlds Fair was great, painted a magical picture of all of the fantastic new technologies and extravagance of the era. Now onto more of his work in New York on wireless communication and harnessing the power of Niagara Falls.
Part 2 has went from a high to taking a terrible turn. Great research and progress and then a fire took out the lab. I loved hearing about his work in Colorado Springs. The lightning storm sounded incredible (though I don't recall anything quite of that magnitude while I lived by Pike's Peak). I had such high hopes once he got financial backing from Morgan, but it seems to me he sealed his own fate by squandering- no, not exactly squandering, but re-appropriating the funds towards loftier goals which they could not reach, rather than producing the promised tangible results. I can easily see why Morgan was displeased. I think if Tesla had perhaps done as arranged, and made commercial advances with his oscillators and lamps from the get-go that would have opened the door for his further development of the telegraphy station... Both by those proceeds and the continued confidence of investors. As it was he just dug himself into a hole. Which lead to withheld further investments, strained relations and a deeper hole. And not to mention the rest of the field making their little advances by pirating his work. So many blows... This five year span just saw things go further and further downhill for him financially, with a finally of his friend's murder and his own mental collapse. Sad. I think some of his ideas really would have revolutionized things, as he said, had he been but able to implement them then. Oh, and why he seems to adverse to paying rent to anyone, and consequently finds himself further in debt is beyond me...
The final section took me longer to finish reading... primarily because it was kind of depressing. Tesla had such over-ambition and no way to fund it. His investors all left or didn't have interest in his preferred projects, what successes he did have were pirated and any proceeds lost to competitors and litigation costs, and to top it off several of his friends and past associates passed away in the '20s. And he still seemed to think very little of failing to pay rent. Self-destructive to say the least. I was intrigued by the mysteries of his last several years, the death ray project, and supposed relationships with characters leading up to and during the world war that may lead to questions of his allegiance. And I really don't understand the whole pigeon obsession, especially in someone so health-conscious. It is unfortunate, and only too believable that someone of his genius and caliber was by turns disbelieved and then shut down and buried by his contemporary scientific and industrial societies. Just to think, how much further advanced could technology have become that much sooner, if only he'd been taken seriously and his work recognized earlier. I am glad he was eventually recognized in some ways, even if most have been posthumous, and his eccentric character and 'mad scientist' persona live on in our culture, even if most of the general population are ignorant of his significant contributions to the power generation and communication systems we still use today, not to mention his work in aeronautics and even early AI. I didn't care so much for some of the psychological analysis speculated in later chapters, though I've never cared much for Freudian theory in any context. And I'm not sure why people seem to be so curious or astounded by his apparent/declared asexuality/celibacy. For a man with so much scientific ambition, whose work constituted his whole life and whose habits hardly left room for a companion let alone a romantic one, I am not at all surprised that such a person never entered into the picture. And if any kind of friend or helper did manifest (such as his Wycliffe foreman or the young man in his later years who helped him), they were very much under-appreciated and overworked in their services.
The narration was perfect for a biography. Adapted appropriate alternate voices for quotes and correspondence, keeping those individuals distinct and consistent, so I could always tell if it was in Tesla's narrative or a phrase from a letter from the Johnson's etc, separate from the general text. Simon Vance has a lovely tone, and expert execution, so that even non-fiction is does not come off sounding dry.
Sad that such a life is not more generally known nor his genius more widely celebrated.
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Nikola Tesla is a true genius. What an awesome mind at inventing the foundation of modern ways that we live. Listening to the "Wizard" was really interesting. I could not get enough with all of Tesla's inventions and the society that he lived in. I should had listened to Marc J. Seifer's biography on Nikola Tesla a lot sooner. I grasp to information like this. I never heard about Tesla, the inventor before I bought this book.
If I were magically transported back to ancient Egypt, I’d be nothing but a crazy prophet – able to describe modern technological marvels, but not sure how any of it works. Indeed, I don’t really understand what electricity is, how it is generated, or transferred from point to point.
Maybe that helps explain why I didn’t seem to appreciate the a-ha behind many of Tesla’s break-through ideas. For example, I didn’t really understand the apparently brilliant and elegant solution that Tesla’s AC power generation was. I recently had the opposite experience listening to the Emperor of All Maladies, another history of science book (about the history of cancer treatment). While I similarly lacked the technical understanding, Emperor of All Maladies made clear to me how researchers had been stumped and why breakthroughs were breakthroughs. So maybe the problem isn’t mine, but Wizard’s.
Tesla had many technological ideas that never gained a foothold, e.g. using the Earth itself as an electrical conductor, and many ideas that seemed outlandish, e.g., his idea for an earthquake causing machine. But Wizard often didn’t help me understand whether the idea was viable. The audiobook ends with two short appendices that discuss a disagreement among experts as to the viability of two such ideas. That was fascinating. I wish there had been more interspersed throughout.
My negativity aside, the book did capture my imagination. As wizards like Tesla were unlocking these new technologies, the 1890s/1900s were a strange time. Everything suddenly seemed possible; the line blurred between science and magic; and it was difficult to tell scientist from con-artist.
Today, much of Tesla’s vision of the future has been realized. Many of the technologies he dreamed of have been thoroughly developed and interwoven into the everyday. So much so, that we don’t understand how much of it works despite our utter reliance on it. In some funny way, then, perhaps my lack of comprehension is a tribute to how deeply Tesla’s visions of future technologies have been fulfilled.
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