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The Invention of Everything Else Hardcover – February 7, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In Hunt's (The Seas) overstuffed and uneven novel set in New York, circa 1943, an aging Nikola Tesla lives at the Hotel New Yorker and cares for (and chats with) pigeons while planning what could be his boldest invention yet. He forges an unlikely friendship with Louisa Dewell, a 24-year-old chambermaid at the hotel who also keeps a pigeon coop. The book alternates between Niko's reminisces of turn-of-the century Manhattan and Louisa's current domestic dramas; Niko revisits old grievances concerning the usurpation or dismissal of his many inventions, and Louisa gets ensnared in her zany father's mission to travel back in time and reconnect with his dead wife via a time machine built by his lifelong friend Azor Carter. Assisting in the scheme is Louisa's mysterious beau, Arthur Vaughn, who may or may not be from the future. Although many events are drawn from Tesla's life, he and his peers, including Thomas Edison and John Muir, are cartoonish. Likewise, the city backdrop is drenched in rosy nostalgia (even Hell's Kitchen is a quaint neighborhood). Each individual plot thread has potential, but the cumulative effect is dulled by an unwieldy structure. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In this surreal historical novel, the aged and forgotten scientist Nikola Tesla is eking out his last days at the Hotel New Yorker in 1943, communing with pigeons and the ghost of Mark Twain. His ruminations on his career (he was exploited by Edison, cheated by Marconi) and on an unrealized love intersect with the inchoate aspirations of a chambermaid whose father wants to use a time machine to be reunited with his dead wife. Hunt is adept at entering the mind of a rudderless young woman, but she is less convincing with the brilliant and possibly crazed eighty-six-year-old Tesla. Still, her vision of punch-drunk, teetering-on-modernity Manhattan dazzles in the details: a vast hotel with its own hospital and ice-skating rink; a Poverty Ball attended by millionaires in rags.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; First Edition edition (February 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 061880112X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618801121
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,498,248 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Amanda Richards HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on April 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is primarily about Nikola Tesla, the eccentric scientist and inventor from Smiljan, who invented AC electricity and wireless communication and belatedly received recognition as the inventor of radio. For the most part, it is a fictionalized account of the latter part of his life while living in New York, especially the time he spent at the New Yorker Hotel, and his interactions with his few friends and acquaintances.

It's also about a fictional chambermaid named Louisa, who is inclined towards being insatiably curious about the lives of the guests of the hotel. Louisa becomes obsessed with Tesla, his life and his inventions, and the two are drawn into a platonic friendship after discovering a mutual interest in homing pigeons. Louisa is also a part of another sub-story involving her widowed father, a family friend who claims to have invented a time machine, and a mysterious young man who may have come from the future.

Even though it's a relatively small book, it includes a detailed account of the life of Tesla, his triumphs, his failures, his phobias and inventions, and the many times he snatched defeat from the jaws of success. The writing style is largely conversational, and it doesn't get so bogged down in science that your eyes glaze over, but the overall structure of the story is sometimes hard to follow (and swallow).

The fact and the fiction don't quite fit together in this historical work, but the rich descriptions of the architecture, social structure and ambience of early twentieth century New York make for interesting reading.

Recommended for inventors, science buffs and historians

Amanda Richards, April 10, 2008
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on March 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The fact that Nikola Tesla--one of the great, neglected scientific geniuses--is a major character in this novel is what first brought me to it. That, and the fact that it is comparatively brief. Not knowing anything of Ms. Hunt, I wasn't sure what I would be getting myself into and this seemed like a relatively minor risk. Turns out, this novel greatly exceeded my expectations.

This is a novel of great characters and even better atmosphere. Besides Tesla, who comes to life as a suitably mysterious elderly man pushing forward and looking back even as the end nears, there is Louisa, a curious chambermaid at the New Yorker hotel who works her way into Tesla's life. The tendrils of the past, people lost, hold on to both of these characters tightly and we see some of that through various dips into history in addition to getting the sense of where both their lives are now. This introduces us to a host of fascinating secondary characters that hover over our main characters like ghosts.

But I think it is the atmosphere of the novel that will stay with me forever. New York of the 1940's and the New Yorker hotel in particular, provide a setting for this novel that, though solid, seems to be shrouded in mist. This creates a world of reality constantly infiltrated by visions and dreams--of the past, of time machines, of bringing the dead to life--that are periodically pushed away by the ugly face of reality. It is very cleverly done.

Overall, I was tremendously impressed by this novel. Taking risks and occasionally coming close to hitting a sour note, it never did. This is one of the best novels I've read recently.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Naz on January 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I would definitely have to recommend this book to people. The writing is amazing, & you can tell the amount of research that went into it because of the amount of rich detail Hunt has carefully crafted into the novel. The only thing is that it is very, very sad, especially as it begins to near its climax. But overall, it is an amazing book to read, & it flows together wonderfully. I am glad that I bought it.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 15, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Samantha Hunt's novel is an historical fiction surrounding the last months of the life of Nikola Tesla, the inventor of alternating current electricity. His life was much obscured by the better known Thomas Edison; however, as this book well illuminates, Edison was more rigid, conforming, capitalistic. It is a story about creativity, artistic inspiration, and imagining the unimaginable. What happens if the spirit can transcend into reality? What if a powerful intuition can link us to something infinite and previously unexplainable? This novel is a novel of ideas as much as it is a fictional biography on the life of a genius.

Magical realism blends with scientific query and knowledge. It is 1943 at the New Yorker hotel, where Tesla lives in isolation and penury with his pigeons and his journal and his thoughts. He is fascinated by the mystery of homing pigeons, the fact that they consistently find their way home. He meets Louisa, an educated young chambermaid there, who shares his fascination with pigeons and has a coop she keeps at her home. They develop a fragile, compassionate, and intellectual relationship.

As the story unfolds, mysteries open to even larger mysteries, and time as a theme seems to have a current as charged as electricity. Louisa has an admirer, Arthur, who may be from the future. Her father, a melancholy and also isolated man still grieving for his dead wife, desires to enter a time machine (built by a friend of his) and reunite with his dead wife.

Hunt's writing is sensuous and full of inner dialogue, blending aspects of psychology, philosophy, science, and science fiction.
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