Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla

Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla

by John J. O'Neill

Nikola Tesla, pioneer of electrical engineering, was a close friend of Pulitzer Prize-winning author O'Neill, and here, O'Neill captures the man as a scientist and as a public figure, exploring: .

how Tesla's father inspired his life in engineering .

why Tesla clung to his theories of electricity in the face of opposition .

how the shy but newly popular Tesla navigated the social life of New York in the gay 1890s .

Tesla's dabblings in the paranormal .

  • Language: English
  • Category: Biography
  • Rating: 3.99
  • Pages: 336
  • Publish Date: November 30th 2006 by Cosimo Classics
  • Isbn10: 1596057130
  • Isbn13: 9781596057135

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I had known a good amount about Tesla and sort of idolized him already so it was really a matter of which of his many biographies would present his story in the best way. Tesla was a brilliant inventor and visionary in electricity and telecommunications (though hardly receives credit outside the scientific world), all stemming from the discovery of one "truth of overwhelming importance for the advancement of humanity." "That this planet, with all its appalling immensity, is to electric current virtually no more than a more than a small metal ball... I share a deep-seeded belief with Tesla, that a person has a sort of human or divine duty to do in some capacity what he or she is good at.

This whole book is just that weird. The AC current that comes from every wall socket in the world comes from generators that are still based on his designs.

But by the time he was in his early twenties, Tesla understood electricity on such an intuitive level that his demonstrations and theories seemed downright unnatural to any other person -- if mundane and prosaic to a modern person today. Tesla offered to build these automated flying machines capable of delivering targeted strikes for the US government, but he was laughed out of the office. He believed he could deliver electricity from power plants wirelessly, across the globe, with need for only two power plants at the global poles. In a time when the world marveled over transatlantic telegraphs, Tesla knew how to build a global radio transmitters that could send video across the planet. One electrical plant per square mile was difficult, and expensive, to manage, but that is where the world was headed, until Tesla broke all existing electrical theories and developed a way to deliver alternating current thousands of miles from the power plant, with virtually no loss in strength. But so many of his great inventions died with him, because he refused to write down any of his ideas, and he would only develop his visions on the grandest, global scale. If he had been willing to start small, he could have built the capital needed to build the big machines. Tesla was know to describe humans as "meat machines" driven by the exact same principles of response to electrical stimuli as any of his dreamed of metal automatons. The author was sure Tesla did not really believe we were meat machines, and was not truly an atheist.

I would absolutely point other readers interested in Tesla to this book, with a warning, to perhaps read between the lines of friendly affection for which the author held for Tesla.

While the nuances of the experiments conducted by Tesla are part-and-parcel of this account, the real value of this book is in the description of the social, political and economic environment of the time.

The first half of the book (especially the War of the Currents chapters) was a terrific read, the latter half became quite a chore as the author started getting into the more technical details of Tesla's projects.

People who don't like biographies usually don't like how they just talk too long about the boring parts of the persons' lives, like the parts where nothing is happening in an action movie. Usually biographies are about the person. Anyone who reads the book will still know a ton about his life, even though it has a lot abut his inventions. One example of this description says Spectacular is a mild word for describing the strange experiment with life that comprises the story of Nikola Tesla, and amazing fails to do adequete justice to the results that burst form his experiences like an exploding rocket.

That being said, this was a fast paced, highly intriguing, biography of Nikola Tesla--a truly remarkable person! The one thing I feel I didn't get out of this book was the sense of personal antagonism held by Tesla toward Edison--and vice-versa--when they were competing between the AC and DC power systems.