Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age

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9780691057767: Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age
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Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America's first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft.


Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla's private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an "idealist" inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion.


This major biography sheds new light on Tesla's visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs.


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From the Back Cover:


"Carlson has written a serious, rigorous book grounded in the academic history of technology, but also a page-turner that any fan of Tesla will enjoy."--Robert MacDougall, Western University


"Nikola Tesla, like one of his oscillators, flickered between different states so quickly that they can easily blur. Carlson captures this extraordinary, contradictory life--inventor, futurist visionary, showman, and, at times, ranting narcissist. We get to see how Tesla scrambled like mad, built with ambition, and in his later efforts failed monumentally. Here is a book that guides us through this wild ride with empathy and without hagiography."--Peter Galison, Harvard University


"Combining archival research with the latest scholarship from the history of technology, Carlson has written the balanced, scholarly biography that Nikola Tesla has long deserved. This is the definitive study of his life and work."--David E. Nye, University of Southern Denmark


"Most biographies of Tesla lack technical background and are uncritical and adulatory in their approach. Carlson's perspective as a historian--particularly a historian of technology--is indispensable for understanding Tesla's place in the rapidly changing American society of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His style is engaging and accessible, and the book will clearly be of value to the historical community."--Bernard S. Finn, curator emeritus, Smithsonian Institution


"Tesla is a tour de force of scholarship and analysis. This is the definitive work on Tesla that brings to light much new information about his life, his inventions, and the changing socioeconomic context in which he worked. Carlson has mined the primary sources to an unprecedented depth and breadth. The book is nothing less than extraordinary."--Michael Brian Schiffer, author of Power Struggles: Scientific Authority and the Creation of Practical Electricity before Edison


About the Author:

W. Bernard Carlson is professor of science, technology, and society in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and professor of history at the University of Virginia. His books include Technology in World History and Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900.

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