GENIUS AT WORK: Images of Alexander Graham Bell by Dorothy Eber

GENIUS AT WORK: Images of Alexander Graham Bell

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fresh, exuberant, tantalizing ""images of Alexander Graham Bell""--starting with the jacket photo of the portly, white-bearded inventor and his long-frocked wife bending toward one another, about to kiss; they have to bend because she is standing inside a tetrahedron. . . of his invention. (No, Buckminster Fuller didn't know that Bell had preceded him, he relates in the introduction, ""until after the geodesic dome."") Dorothy Eber, best known for Pisteolak and other documentations of Eskimo life, discovered Bell's manifold activities--and their documentary potential--when she bought a cottage at Baddeck, in Nova Scotia, where the Bells spent long working summers from 1895 until their death five months apart, in 1922. There, he pursued researches in sheep-breeding (would a ewe with more than two teats produce more than one lamb?), in water condensation and desalination (why ""should anyone die of thirst upon the ocean?""), in aeronautics (whence the tetrahedron--devised for kites, intended for a plane) and hydrofoil propulsion (a boat he jointly developed, with Casey Baldwin, held the world speed record for twelve years). Mrs. Bell provided ""support services,"" technical suggestions, and venture capital. The Bell children and grandchildren soaked up ""the scientific way of thinking."" And the local populace, employed in household and workshop, reveled in the excitement. From survivors, we hear of Bell's idiosyncrasies (separate quarters for ""specific trains of thought,"" among them), and Mrs. Bell's high-spirited, unfazed response, despite her long-time deafness. And because picture-taking was both systematic and endemic, there are photos aplenty--of the tetrahedral kites and flying craft, of Bell kite-watching and ""conversing"" with Helen Keller, of the whole bounteous domain. Some of these are not as carefully integrated with the text as they might be--and in certain cases, one misses diagrams (why no drawings from Bell's notebooks is especially hard to understand). Eber is also given to preaching, superfluously, on the merits of the ""generalist"" vs. the ""specialist."" Still, with nary a telephone in sight, no onlooker will again doubt the fertility of Bell's invention.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1982
Publisher: Viking