Rachel's Random Recommendation #20: Tesla biography Man Out of Time (1981) by Margaret Cheney

My interest in the history of science and technology (but not the math...noooooo) led me to pick up this biography of the brilliant and eccentric Nikola Tesla several years ago.

Born in the former Yugoslavia, Tesla became one of the most famous inventors working in America in the late-19th- and early-20th centuries. His inventions and experiments were so daring and even visionary, that they call to mind the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci and his sketches for machines that were far ahead of his time.

In Tesla, Cheney charts the growth and development of the man and his unique mind, covering his discovery of the rotating magnetic field (the basis of most alternating-current machinery) and his work in robotics, computers, aircraft, automated cars, missiles, and more. Among his friends Tesla counted Mark Twain and George Westinghouse (and among the people secretly watching him he could include the FBI...). But speaking of Twain and Tesla...

Of course I had to include this picture of Twain playing with electricity in Tesla's lab! It's not surprising to find Twain chillin' with NK since ol' Mark was always into the latest inventions...but I digress...

Twain must have known that Tesla was the real deal, as did many of Tesla's contemporaries and fellow inventors, including Edison. It was Tesla's extravagance and eccentricities, his ability to think differently and try almost anything, that set him apart from the others.

As Cheney explains in the Introduction, getting her hands on copies of Tesla's technical writings and identifying references to Tesla in other peoples' works was extremely difficult. Only some of his writings are available in the United States (this could have changed in the years since this books publication, however). But not to worry: there's plenty Tesla-related goodness around on the internet, including a site set up by the Tesla Memorial Society of New York.

So, if you're looking for a relatively short biography (>400 pages) about an eccentric genius dude with maaaad inventing skills, this is the book for you. Enjoy.

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