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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 September 2013
"I misunderstood Tesla. I think we all misunderstood Tesla. We thought he was a dreamer and a visionary. He did dream but his dreams came true, he did have visions but they were of a real future, not an imaginary one."

The above nice quote from John Stone that graces the Epilogue (page 396) reminds us, and we do need frequent reminding, that real genius, the dazzling genius that Tesla possessed, was bound to be misunderstood.

This book by W. Bernard Carlson, a science professor at Virginia University, is the latest welcome addition to the ever growing literature on Tesla. Published by Princeton University Press, it is an exceptional and balanced work. You can tell immediately from the generous index that the author has done all his homework. There was so much going on in Tesla's life that it is hard to strike the right balance by condensing it all into a book with just the right amount of pages. What do you include? What do you omit? I think Carlson has come the closest to achieving just the right mix.

As the author himself says in the Introduction:- "In writing about Tesla, one must navigate between unfair criticism and excessive enthusiasm." Yes, that is the ideal and the most sensible way to do it.

I am pleased that the author has gone into necessary technical details more than some others have done previously. Tesla differed from Einstein (a pure theorist) in that he was primarily an experimenter - par excellence. He did not share Einstein's views regarding General Relativity, for example. GR is a beautiful geometric construction but if Tesla objects to it then he at least deserves a hearing. Even if you do not share his views you will broaden your mind by attempting to refute them.

The book also features some photographs that I have not seen before. There is one for example (page 219) of Tesla's lab at East Houston Street where a very large spiral coil is visible at the back of the room.

The only slight quibble I have with this book's production is that the dust cover of my copy is a bit on the flimsy side. But this is a very minor point and nothing to to with the text itself.

I find this well written and thoughtful book provides a sense of perspective that is not always to be found in other works about Tesla. If I was asked to choose which of the many books on Tesla to recommend, I think I should choose this one. It is a pleasure to do so.
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on 4 December 2013
With my education as a tax Lawyer I am surely no expert in technician's material or in things that have to do with electricity. But I knew a little bit about Tesla and understood he was unknown importance for the electrical age. Christopher Nolan's movie illusionist movie "The Prestige" about included the character of Nicolas Tesla. It intrigued me.

It made me more curious about Tesla, I wanted to know more and this book provided me very good information. I have had a great pleasure in reading Carlson’s book about Tesla. Nicolas Tesla is called the inventor of the electrical age. After this book I think I can understand why and I think It is an sentence well deserved.

Carlson has done a great job with this book, because he has been able to write in a clear, understandable language about a difficult and technical subject: the development of the electrical ideas created by Tesla. At least, for me as a lawyer I have found it very helpfull to have the information explained in clear, understandable and not too technical electrician-style language. Maybe this could be the reason that for some experts in ‘electrical stuff’ (no meaning to offence somebody) have some difficulties in reading the book, because of its low level of technical details for them.

I think the book is a well written biography about Nicolas Tesla. Carlson has guided me through Tesla his childhood, school, his time at the university, his creative mind, brilliant ideas, travelling and living in the USA, his mind blowing performances and his bankruptcy. The book contains different kind of pictures and drawings of Tesla his ideas, all with extra explanation about how `the electrical stuff' works. Only a few times the explanation was for me to technical, but that did not bother me too much. Because basicly the book as a whole was not too technical. With this book I have come to understand more of Nicolas Tesla his influence on modern life.

In the second chapter, Carlson writes: "..., as we go forward with the story, we will see that what counts with subjective rationality is that inventors like Tesla come to believe in so strongly that they are willing to rearrange the external world in order to make their ideals into reality."

After having read the book, I fully agree with those words. It’s the power of imagination. It’s not that I have become the biggest fan of Nicolas Tesla. But I do believe that he deserves more credits and acknowledgement then he has received during his life.
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I’ve reviewed two biographies of the engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla – Tesla: Man out of Time (which is good on Tesla’s odd behaviour but struggles with the science) and Wizard (which is a more rounded book, but is totally lost in the science, telling us that Telsa was close to splitting the electron). This is definitely the best of the three. Certainly it is far better on the aspects of Tesla’s work that are worthwhile – his engineering genius in working on AC motors and polyphase AC, giving comprehensive details of his designs and work.

There is also plenty on his long obsession with transmitting information and electrical energy remotely, culminating in the remarkable Wardenclyffe development with its iconic discharge tower, which ruined him financially and proved his downfall when he was unable to deliver on his promises to be able to span the Atlantic in six months to financier J. P. Morgan. By contrast, though, some of his more wild schemes and his social oddities are only discussed in passing – Carlson hints at the possibility that Tesla was homosexual, which would have been controversial in his day, but hardly mentions his strange eating habits and pigeon-befriending activities. I’m not sure the balance is quite right. This is after, after all a biography, and we get a rather sketchy picture of Tesla, the man. It may be because Carlson struggles with that side of biography – we hear, for instance, the strangely childlike line that his father died because he was heartbroken. But any shortcomings on the personal front are more than made up for by the exquisite detail on the engineering achievements.

There was one other aspect I was uncomfortable with, which was that Carlson seemed to find it difficult to admit when Tesla was wrong. The facts seem to be that Tesla was a brilliant engineer, but only a so-so scientist. It’s not an unusual combination, and Tesla often managed to develop technology by trial and error without understanding the underlying physics. Specifically he had a poor grasp of the nature of electromagnetic radiation, leading to his odd ideas of being able to transmit electrical energy as a form of vibration through the Earth. While Carlson makes it clear Tesla didn’t succeed he avoids saying that Tesla failed to understand the science, using phrases like ‘raises questions about its feasibility’ in a situation that demands ‘it was just never going to work.’ There is also reasonable evidence that many of Teslas promises of being able to develop technology were nothing more than evasions to put off his creditors or pure fantasy – again Tesla gets too much benefit of the doubt.

Overall, though this is an enjoyable biography of Tesla, concentrating in detail on his engineering achievements and business arrangements, even though it could have been firmer on the unscientific nature of some of Tesla’s ideas.
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on 13 January 2016
Written by an engineer for engineers, with little about Tesla's character, personality and what made him tick. I was quite disappointed. Not only was it written in an impersonal colourless style but it contained quite a few easy-to-check errors. This was disconcerting because it made me then wonder what other hard-to-check errors might be in there as well. I am a magazine journalist who bought this, and other books by and about Tesla has background research for a feature on Tesla, ahead of a visit to the Tesla Museum in Belgrade. A disappointment, especially given the colourful intro (which I expect must have been written by the book's editor). I bought on the strength of that, from the Look Inside snippet. But the colour soon faded and we were into a dry discourse on electronics and long extraneous (and dry) passages on the works of others or abstracted takes on Tesla's ancestors in Serbian history. Just plain dull.
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on 3 July 2013
This is the best written serious bookI have ever read-it is compulsive reading and so interesting-full of surprises and amazing facts.
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on 31 March 2016
Not as lucidly written as I would have wished for. Explains what Tesla did but often not how these gadgets and phenomena really work.
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on 14 March 2015
Fascinating reading, if I ever get round to finishing it! What a genius!
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on 14 December 2014
As described
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on 28 October 2014
The author spends more time talking about himself than Tesla - what a jerk!
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on 25 October 2014
It is like the description!
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