- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Touchstone; 1 edition (October 9, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743215362
- ISBN-13: 978-0743215367
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (242 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Tesla: Man Out of Time Paperback – October 9, 2001
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Discover A dramatic and poignant portrait.
American Scientist Excellent...a significant contribution to the recent history of science...informative and delightful to read.
Publishers Weekly Well documented, sympathetic, and engaging.
Choice Cheney's excellent biography of one of the most idiosyncratic and truly enigmatic "scientists" is both comprehensive and well written...very warmly recommended.
The Sunday Times, London Uncommonly colorful...absorbing.
About the Author
Margaret Cheney is a biographer of unusual versatility. In addition to her two major studies of Tesla (most recently Tesla: Master of Lightning, with Robert Uth), she has written Midnight at Mabel's, a biography of the great cabaret singer and song stylist Mabel Mercer. Cheney is also the author of Meanwhile Farm and Why: The Serial Killer in America. She lives in California.
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Top Customer Reviews
A genuine good read!
SEMI-FICTIONAL WRITING. Towards the beginning of the book (but not later on), there is some semi-fictional writing, apparently to stimulate interest in the book. For example, we read, "Mark Twain's eyes sparkled in anticipation. Let's have a show, Tesla. You know what I always say. No, what do you say, Mark, the inventor asked with a smile. Suddenly, the whole laboratory was flooded with strange, beautiful light . . . but the light show was merely a warmup for the inventor's guests. Twain, in his usual white suit . . . was delighted. He whooped and waved his arms." (pages 21-24) To repeat, this sort of semi-fiction only occurs near the beginning of the book.
INVENTIONS. The book describes a number of inventions, some of them having a permanent impact on the global economy, e.g., AC current. Some of the inventions such as AC equipment, are provided with patent numbers, enabling the reader to acquire a high-quality account of the invention. These patent numbers include 334,823; 335,786; 335,787, and so on (see page 62). Any reader can obtain copies of these patents for free on line from the European Patent Office at espacenet, or from the United States Patent & Trademark Office (uspto.gov). Other inventions are only described in a haphazard way, e.g., a motor that runs only one wire (page 80), reduced pressure gasses that are highly conductive and that glow (precursor to fluorescent lamps) (page 79), a carbon-button lamp that was a precursor to the electron microscope or cyclotron (pages 81-84), and no patent numbers are given. Another invention, is merely the conduction of high voltages through the skin of a living human being. What is inventive is that the voltage is so high, that it does not pass through internal organs (pages 23-24, 101). Other inventions described in this book are merely phony inventions, such as a ring 100 feet off the ground, and encircling the earth, allowing travelers to hop aboard and travel at 1000 miles per hour (p. 39), or use of electricity to cure arthritis (p. 102).
EARLY LIFE. We learn of Tesla's childhood in Smiljan, Croatia, where he wrote poems and fixed a collapsed fire hose, and that Tesla's older brother was killed by a horse. We learn of Tesla's phobias, e.g., to earrings, the need to count steps while walking, the need to calculate the volume of soup bowls, and aversion to touching other people's hair (page 29-30).
CAREER BEGINNINGS. In 1881, Tesla got a job in a telegraph office in Hungary, and he put some effort into improving the Gramme direct current generator. A turning point came when he "hit upon the principle of the rotating magnetic field produced by 2 alternating currents out of step with each other, thus eliminating the need for a commutator or brushes (p. 40-44). We learn that Garland and Gibb had earlier invented AC current, but it was not practical until Tesla made these improvements. We learn of Tesla's first collaborator, Charles Batchelor, who installed Edison's first commercial lights on the S.S.Columbia (p. 47-48). Later, Tesla moved to the USA, and was hired by Edison to repair lights on the S.S.Oregon.
TESLA THE ENTREPENEUR. We learn that J.P.Morgan was the wealthy backer of Edison Electric, which strung DC wires throughout Manhattan. Tesla left Edison to form his own company in Rahway, New Jersey, and later at 33 South Fifth Street in Manhattan. Tesla's backers included none other than George Westinghouse. Tesla invented the 60 cycle AC motor, which is still the universal standard throughout the world. We learned of a massive controversy between Edison (advocate of DC current) and Tesla (advocate of AC current), and that Edison staged public executions of dogs with AC current, in order to blot out Tesla (pages 67-69).
At any rate, we now watch Edison's motion pictures run on Tesla's AC current, today's advocates of vinyl recordings listen to Edison's records run on Tesla's AC current, and we run Edison's incandescent lights on Tesla's AC current. Regarding radio, we learn that in 1893, Tesla made the first public demonstration of radio, though Marconi is usually given credit for doing this in 1895 (page 96). We learn that next to Tesla, Oliver Lodge was the 2nd most important radio pioneer, and we learn that Tesla's radio patents prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court. We also learn how George Westinghouse wrangled Tesla's patent royalties from him, though more details would have been welcome on this point (page 74).
CRITIQUE. Sometimes, I wish that the book had been written by an engineer. Few of the inventions are described with any degree of specificity, or in a way that distinguishes them from the inventions of others. It would have been useful if the book had provided a list of all of Tesla's patents, not just some of them. The author neglects to give a citation for the Sept. 1900 case heard by Judge Townsend of the U.S. Circuit Court of Connecticut. The author seems to have relied heavily on another book, PRODIGAL GENIUS by J.J. O'Neill (1944), instead of doing fact-finding from primary sources, e.g., newspapers. At any rate, the book is an engaging page-turner. Any reader interested in a skilled description of Tesla's inventions may download Tesla's patents for free. The U.S. patents available from espacenet have better quality images than the U.S. patents available from uspto. The opinions from the various lawsuits can be found in any law library, on LEXIS NEXIS. Law librarians will be more than glad to help the interested reader look up these things!!! If you want to learn other things about Mr.Tesla, I recommend EMPIRES OF LIGHT by Jill Jonnes. EMPIRES OF LIGHT has a more consistent theme (AC generators; AC motors) than Ms.Cheney's book, and seems to dig deeper into details on this particular theme, for example, the partnership between Mr.Tesla and Mr.Westinghouse.
As of May 21, 2010, TESLA MOTORS agreed to open up an automobile production plant in Fremont, California. Hopefully, the re-establishment of Mr.Tesla's name in the public's eye will stimulate more interested readers to buy Margaret Cheney's fine book, and also Jill Jonnes' fine book.
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.
For a nonscientist, like me, many of the inventions and gadgets and discoveries seemed vague and hard to decipher. Given the importance of Tesla in advancing the field of electricity, the book does serve as an introduction to a much under reported and under publicized aspect of scientific history. I feel that this book is a start to explore Tesla and his inventions and his insights. I would like to see a coil in action.
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