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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
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!
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.
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