Tesla – The Wizard of Electricity
© 2013 by David J. Kent Fall River Press
I enjoyed this biography of Nikola Tesla immensely. The title is a take-off on Thomas Edison’s sobriquet “The Wizard of Menlo Park.” The two men were rivals from the day they met, and in the most important way, Nikola Tesla won. He made much of life today possible, by making the long distance transport of electricity feasible. But in the eyes of history, Nikola Tesla became, for want of a better word, a wizard rather than a scientist.
The first thing one notices about this book is the book. The visual treatment of the subject and the story is unique. At least a third of the page space in the book is taken up with excellent illustrations from publications of the day and excerpts of a comic book style “graphic biography” published in 1946 in “Real Heroes No. 16,” as well as “in his own words” comments and explanations from Tesla and others.
Biographies of famous and important people are often timeline driven and dry. Not so “Tesla – The Wizard of Electricity.” The story is eminently accessible, and that makes its subject accessible. The biographical information is presented more in the form of watersheds than of timeline, making for a significant bit of overlap, but clarifying the important aspects of the life of the man Tesla.
In this book, David Kent takes an easy reading style of writing to the mysteries that were Nikola Tesla, making for a truly fascinating read. In the process he humanizes the man who many of his own day, and in his own profession, dismissed as beyond eccentric, but a man who was also capable of astoundingly original inventive genius.
As the author points out, Tesla, having alienated Thomas Edison and discouraged most of his financial backers, found himself at the age of eighty-two trying to debate Albert Einstein in the press on the latter’s “idle speculation and false conceptions” that led to Einstein’s Special and General Theories of Relativity. There is some question as to whether Einstein ever acknowledged the challenge. Had they ever met, Tesla would likely have been better prepared to hold a conversation with Merlin. At least they were both acknowledged wizards.
Tesla suffered from at least two psychological disorders. He suffered from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and he was also beset by the constant onslaught of apparitions, so much so that as a child he would ask his sister if she saw what he did. Later he channeled them into a way to view his imagined inventions in three-dimensions, as if they were projected in a hologram.
Finally, because of his genius, and his constant harping on the military applications of some of his larger scale inventions, upon his death the federal government confiscated all his records and papers. As a consequence, Tesla’s death spawned enough conspiracy theories to fill volumes (and continues to do so). As a public service, Mr. Kent has disposed of a couple of the more egregious at the end of this book.