TESLA: THE MODERN SORCEROR, by Daniel Blair
1999. Rating: 7 1/2
Our world would be a much, much different place today if Nikola Tesla
(1856-1943) had never lived. We have him to thank for everything from AC
current to radio...but how many people have ever heard of him?
Tesla: The Modern Sorceror is a narrative biography of the
man who, had circumstances and human nature been slightly different, could
have been the best-known inventor of the late 19th and early 20th centuries--
far moreso than even Thomas Edison. It starts with his childhood in the
rural countryside of Eastern Europe, up through his building of the famous
Wardenclyffe Tower in New Jersey, and then speeds through the last part of
his life: an obscure old age living in a hotel room in New York City.
So who is Nikola Tesla, anyway? He gave us AC electricity, a far
superior model to Thomas Edison's direct current, which was unreliable and
could only travel short distances. He was the true inventor of radio--as
the book points out, Marconi's "invention" of radio and first wireless transmission
(beaten by some years by a wireless signal of Tesla's) used 17 of Tesla's patents.
He also built a 200-foot-tall tower in Wardenclyffe, New Jersey, which
theoretically would have been able to transmit wireless electricity anywhere
on the Earth by using the planet itself as a gigantic battery. The Tesla Coil,
which intensely magnifies a small charge of electricity, is still in regular use
across the world today. The book also details how Tesla inadvertantly caused an earthquake
in New York City with a machine that tapped into the Earth itself--after which, Tesla
smashed the machine and never built another.
Despite necessary digressions into the lives of two important figures in
Tesla's life, Thomas Edison and financier J.P. Morgan, the book flows well.
I was a little disappointed about some things the book left out: Tesla's
recognition as the inventor of radio by the Supreme Court, his work with
"death rays" and antigravity in his later years, and the fact that the last
ten years of his notes, and working models, were confiscated by the U.S. government
after his death. I normally would take away points for the fact that some of the more
trivial details are off or wrong--such as saying that Mark Twain (a friend of Tesla's)
died in 1918, when it was actually 1910--but most of those
points are given back because the book accurately portrays what a scoundrel
Thomas Edison really was, both personally and professionally, and the
true circumstances behind Edison's inventions--most of which were the
creations of other men working for him.
The book also takes some artistic license for what it calls the real
reason Tesla wanted to build the Wardenclyffe Tower, as well as why Morgan
ultimately pulled the funding for it and made sure that Tesla was lost into
almost total obscurity. But the story of Tesla is an extremely important one,
and for that reason alone I give this easy-to-read book a high recommendation.
You'll understand our modern world a lot better afterwards.
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