TESLA by Tad Wise


Email this review


 An absorbing but ultimately unsatisfying fictionalized biography of the true father of radio and inventor of fluorescent lighting, remote control, and robotics. Nikola Tesla was the ideal American immigrant: energetic, determined, and brilliant. After working briefly for Edison, he became the resident genius at Westinghouse, churning out patent after patent, inventing neon, radar, and possibly a death ray that may have been the early forerunner of the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka Star Wars). Wise's first novel both obscures and clarifies its subject. The author acknowledges his debt to Tesla's five biographers, but he could profitably have taken a little more liberty with the known facts. Wise tantalizingly dangles ideas about certain aspects of the inventor's personality--hinting that Tesla's lifelong celibacy may have been due to underlying homosexuality, for example--but never even theorizes about such crucial matters as his belief in the merits of sleep deprivation, his psychic and hypnotic abilities, and his efforts to communicate with extraterrestrials. These exotic practices resulted in the once celebrated and wealthy Tesla spending his last days hounded by the FBI, roosting in a seedy hotel with hundreds of pigeons. Wise's gifts as a novelist are many. He brings to life an assortment of characters, from Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to Stanford White, J.P. Morgan, and Mark Twain. He captures Tesla's sharp hunger to succeed both as an artist of invention and as a member of New York City's social elite. What he doesn't capture are the psychological forces that drove this complex man. The perfect gift for a bright 12-year-old: a colorful, eventful life with most of the sex and all of the religious torment left out. Adults may want to look for a good biography instead. (First printing of 25,000)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
ISBN: 1-878685-36-8
Page count: 355pp
Publisher: Andrews McMeel
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1994