Synopses & Reviews
"Carlson has written a serious, rigorous book grounded in the academic history of technology, but also a page-turner that any fan of Tesla will enjoy."--Robert MacDougall, Western University
"Nikola Tesla, like one of his oscillators, flickered between different states so quickly that they can easily blur. Carlson captures this extraordinary, contradictory life--inventor, futurist visionary, showman, and, at times, ranting narcissist. We get to see how Tesla scrambled like mad, built with ambition, and in his later efforts failed monumentally. Here is a book that guides us through this wild ride with empathy and without hagiography."--Peter Galison, Harvard University
"Combining archival research with the latest scholarship from the history of technology, Carlson has written the balanced, scholarly biography that Nikola Tesla has long deserved. This is the definitive study of his life and work."--David E. Nye, University of Southern Denmark
"Most biographies of Tesla lack technical background and are uncritical and adulatory in their approach. Carlson's perspective as a historian--particularly a historian of technology--is indispensable for understanding Tesla's place in the rapidly changing American society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His style is engaging and accessible, and the book will clearly be of value to the historical community."--Bernard S. Finn, curator emeritus, Smithsonian Institution
"Tesla is a tour de force of scholarship and analysis. This is the definitive work on Tesla that brings to light much new information about his life, his inventions, and the changing socioeconomic context in which he worked. Carlson has mined the primary sources to an unprecedented depth and breadth. The book is nothing less than extraordinary."--Michael Brian Schiffer, author of Power Struggles: Scientific Authority and the Creation of Practical Electricity before Edison
"The flamboyant Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), as famous as Thomas Edison during his heyday, is now remembered largely for his eccentricities and his eponymous science museum staple, the Tesla coil. Here, University of Virginia tech and history professor Carlson (Technology in World History) sheds light on the man and plenty of his inventions. A Serbian-born engineer, Tesla came to the U.S. in 1884 to work for Edison Machine Works, whose namesake was then doggedly pioneering direct-current (DC) generators and attacking the work of his rival and alternating-current (AC) champion, George Westinghouse. Nevertheless, Tesla's prodigious talents resulted in a watershed invention for the other team and helped pave the way for AC to become today's electrical standard. Fascinated with wireless power transmission, Tesla also invented key components of telegraphy, radio, and television while making headlines with spectacular public demonstrations. Sadly, investors gradually lost interest Tesla lacked the business acumen of Edison. But he was quite the showman he regaled reporters with claims of wild inventions, like a superpowerful 'particle beam weapon' that could blast planes from the sky, and drew the curious attention of Mark Twain. More technical than previous biographies, Carlson's electric portrait might turn off casual readers, but scholars will find it illuminating. 56 photos & 32 illus. (June)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America's first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft.
Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla's private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an "idealist" inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion.
This major biography sheds new light on Tesla's visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs.
About the Author
W. Bernard Carlson is professor of science, technology, and society in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and professor of history at the University of Virginia. His books include Technology in World History and Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
CHAPTER ONE An Ideal Childhood (1856-1878) 12
CHAPTER TWO Dreaming of Motors (1878-1882) 34
CHAPTER THREE Learning by Doing (1882-1886) 60
CHAPTER FOUR Mastering Alternating Current (1886-1888) 76
CHAPTER FIVE Selling the Motor (1888-1889) 100
CHAPTER SIX Searching for a New Ideal (1889-1891) 117
CHAPTER SEVEN A Veritable Magician (1891) 129
CHAPTER EIGHT Taking the Show to Europe (1891-1892) 143
CHAPTER NINE Pushing Alternating Current in America (1892-1893) 158
CHAPTER TEN Wireless Lighting and the Oscillator (1893-1894) 176
CHAPTER ELEVEN Efforts at Promotion (1894-1895) 193
CHAPTER TWELVE Looking for Alternatives (1895-1898) 214
CHAPTER THIRTEEN Stationary Waves (1899-1900) 262
CHAPTER FOURTEEN Wardenclyffe (1900-1901) 302
CHAPTER FIFTEEN The Dark Tower (1901-1905) 331
CHAPTER SIXTEEN Visionary to the End (1905-1943) 368
Note on Sources 415
Abbreviations and Sources 421