A searching portrait of the troubled, visionary Serbian-American inventor, with simple hands-on projects that touch on his life and interests.
O’Quinn describes in some detail the achievements for which Tesla is best remembered—from the Tesla coil and the practical generation of AC electricity to an advanced type of turbine—as well as his conflicts with Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi. She promotes him as both a pacifist (notwithstanding his visions of particle-beam superweapons) and a conservationist whose experiments with wireless power transmission were spurred at least in part by environmental concerns. Without psychologizing she also notes his secretive nature, his tendencies to live beyond his means and to con investors, his now-disturbing eugenics theories, and his nomadic last years as a reclusive urban pigeon feeder. Period photos and patent drawings depict the hawk-nosed inventor, his work, his rivals, and his friends, and there are further resources aplenty at the end for curious or tantalized readers. Young experimenters hoping to fire up megavolt blasts of sparks or light bulbs held in their bare hands as Tesla did will be disappointed by the inserted projects, which begin with generating static electricity on a balloon and go on to demonstrations of magnetic fields and electromagnetism, writing an autobiography, and suchlike depressingly nonhazardous activities.
Overall, a winning tribute to a scientific dreamer who was both a man of his times and, often, well ahead of them. (index, timeline, endnotes) (Biography. 11-13)