Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!

 



Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Compare cell phone plans using Wirefly's innovative plan comparison tool ×
Books Science Technology

Ask Slashdot: Best Books On the Life and Work of Nikola Tesla? 140

An anonymous reader writes The internet is full of interesting nuggets of info about Nikola Tesla's life and scientific exploits: The time a young Tesla improved an electric motor for Edison, and Edison simply would not pay Tesla the monetary reward he had promised him earlier. The friction between Tesla and wealthy industrialist J.P. Morgan, and Tesla's friendship with (kinder) industrialist George Westinghouse. The 2 different times Tesla's main laboratory burned to the ground. The time a Tesla lab experiment reportedly caused a small earthquake to trigger in lower Manhattan. Tesla's (never quite fulfilled) dream of transmitting electricity across great distances without using wires or cables, etc. All this fascinating stuff, and more, about Tesla's life is out there, mostly in shortish snippets — and sometimes woven into outright conspiracy theories — on the internet for anyone to examine. Now to my question: What are the best books to read to get a fuller picture of Nikola Tesla's life and work? Preferably something well researched and factually accurate. Are there any good documentaries or movies (apart from David Bowie playing a wizard-like Tesla in "The Prestige")? Why is Thomas Edison so well known and covered in education/popular culture, and the equally prolific and ingenious Tesla a "mysterious and ghostly figure" by comparison?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Ask Slashdot: Best Books On the Life and Work of Nikola Tesla?

Comments Filter:
  • Not a narcisisst (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wiredlogic ( 135348 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:25PM (#48124615)

    Because Edison was a Jobs-like narcissist who used people to elevate his status and promote himself. Tesla was too busy working in the lab to revel in fame and build a populist legacy.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Unknown74 ( 3041957 )
      I disagree about Edison being like Jobs. Edison made more connections to folks in business - he, too, worked in the lab, and made a great invention - the light bulb. But then he realized that to get lightbulbs in every house, he had to get electricity in every house, too. Enter Westinghouse, and may others who invented the electricity distribution industry. Come on - who could be as big an a$$hole as Jobs...really???
      • Re: Not a narcisisst (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Edison did not "invent" the light bulb. The first known attempt at an electrical arc lamp took place some 70 years before Edison.
        As for Edison's contribution to the evolution of the light bulb, it was mostly his lab staff that did the work and had the ideas coupled with the work Swann did in parallel initially.

        • by F34nor ( 321515 )

          He figured it out using a form of lucid dreaming combined with power napping. He would hold a brass ball in his hand when napping, right as he entered REM and began to loose muscle tension, he would drop and the ball and write down what he was thinking.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            a lot of his notes were things like "dropped ball again. maybe use sticky gloves?"

          • I've held my arm over my head just for fun when trying to sleep and at the moment you doze off, your arm falls on you.

        • It is true that other people invented the first light bulb, but the arc lamp was not a light bulb.

          • Yes. You beat me to it.

            The arc lamp and the light bulb are two very different things. Just the name gives it away: one uses an electric arc. The light bulb uses an electrically-heated filament. They are about as similar as wine and vinegar.

            Having said that, it is true that he didn't invent the idea of the filament bulb. But he did improve the it enough to make it practical.
            • But he did improve the it enough to make it practical.

              Actually even that is not true: Swan [wikipedia.org] did it first, before Edison and some believe that Edison went as far to falsify evidence in the US court case to prevent him losing there. The sole reason that Edison is remembered is because he made a lot of money. Edison's contributions to light bulbs are like Bill Gates' contributions to Operating Systems: he marketed a popular early version of the invention.

              • I was not aware of the Swan situation.

                On the other hand, Edison is known for far more than just the lightbulb. We was still a great inventor (or, perhaps more properly, he and his company were great inventors). That doesn't mean Edison was any kind of nice guy. Witness the Edison/Tesla battles; Edison was not above using nefarious means to get his way.

                It wasn't Edison who led to Tesla's demise, though. Even though Edison had ripped him off. Because Tesla actually won the big AC/DC war. It was the then
                • perhaps more properly, he and his company were great inventors

                  I think that this is probably the truth of it. Edison's "genius" was that he assembled a team of engineers and scientists to create the first company which relied on innovation. I doubt we will ever really know exactly how much Edison himself actually contributed to the inventions his company created but I suspect that it is probably quite a bit less than we think.

      • Re:Not a narcisisst (Score:5, Informative)

        by SuricouRaven ( 1897204 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @03:12PM (#48125215)

        Edison didn't invent a lot of his inventions. He hired others who had the ideas. He recognised the value of a brand, and made himself the brand - Edison, the genius inventor, pioneer of electricity, lighting, sound recording, moving photography, and many other fields. Taking credit for things wasn't just to fuel his ego, but for solid business reasons: Any product percieved to be the work of the great Edison would automatically be taken seriously.

        • by Bing Tsher E ( 943915 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @04:09PM (#48125497) Journal

          Probably Edison's greatest invention was the modern Research and Development Lab. Before him, inventions were made by individuals working out of barns or the back room in existing factories. Edison pioneered the idea of having a staff of scientists and engineers working for one organization.

          • Yes, I think that truly is Edison's greatest invention and one that really seems to have sprung from him.

          • by dbIII ( 701233 )
            Wedgewood did the same more than a century earlier as an a fully industrial example and there were plenty of examples linked to academia. Edison's company did a lot but there's no point crediting him with such a thing.
          • Tesla was employed by Edison so it is very possible that some of Edison's contributions were, in reality Tesla's
      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        Some guy who worked for Edison invented the light bulb, hence the Steve Jobs comparison, and in many ways he was a far bigger prick than Jobs. For instance Steve Jobs did not call a press conference to publicly electrocute animals as some sort of snarky one-upmanship on a rival.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Narcisissts.

      What?! You didn't include Musk? Or Ellison?

      Listen, the name of the game in Silicon Valley is self promotion. Creating a myth around yourself - whether true or not - is the name of the game, baby.

      On another note, it's amazing to me how dissing Jobs gets you mod'ed up or at least not mod'ed Troll these days on Slashdot. Come on guys, you remember the 90s! Saying ANYTHING negative about Jobs got you mod'ed into oblivion.

      And now in the '10s, we have the Muskies - the Musk fanboys.

      At least some fo

    • by Moof123 ( 1292134 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @05:17PM (#48125783)

      Edison and Tesla do a good job pointing to the difference between a "cut and try" design engineer, and a really good engineer who knows his theory. Edison got his stuff to work after many tries, often with sub-optimal solutions, and was quite the marketeer and salesman. Tesla quietly got the right solution, with math to back it up, and got screwed over thanks to his less effective self promotion.

      Tesla nailed the guts of the 3 phase AC power grid pretty quickly. Edison's DC solution was lame and nuts at its face. Edison invented the electric chair to poison the well on AC for years, while Tesla had to give away his rights to Westinghouse to get the right answer adopted.

      I see shades of this play out in engineering companies all the time, and the lesson I have learned is to always be doubly cautious whenever an engineer is a little too good at selling his idea and too confident in the promised results.

      • Re:Not a narcisisst (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ray-auch ( 454705 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @06:15PM (#48126047)

        There is good engineering and engineering a successful product. Edison was much better at understanding the latter, he also understood and played the patents system. He was in the end by far the better capitalist / businessman, hence he won, financially, and winners write the history books.

        Before writing Tesla down as always the great engineer who never got successful, it is worth remembering that he did make a fortune (tens of millions in today's money) from his AC patents before he gave up on the royalties, but he died a pauper because he blew his fortune self-funding research into ideas that were much less good - too confident in his own promised results, he sunk all his money into ideas that just didn't work.

    • Because Edison was a Jobs-like narcissist who used people to elevate his status and promote himself. Tesla was too busy working in the lab to revel in fame and build a populist legacy.

      The short list:

      1877. The phonograph.

      Edison and Bell both began in at a time even almost no one believed that reproducing the human voice across vast distances of time and space would ever be possible.

      Distributing Music Over Telephone Lines [earlyradiohistory.us] [1909]

      The Carbon Microphone. [1877-78]

      No more need to shout into the phone. First Long Distance calls. New York to Chicago, 1892.

      Then an inventor named Michael I. Pupin invented (and patented) the loading coil, a device made of electromagnets that could strengthen an electronic signal; with enough loading coils wired into a circuit, and wired properly, the signal could reach 1,500 miles---from New York to Denver---before degrading so far as to be unfathomable.

      Calling a country far, far away [telcomhistory.org]

      The Incandescent Light Bulb (1879)

      The Edison lamp could be wired in parallel, making it easy to servi

  • Margaret Cheney (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:30PM (#48124645)

    Man Out of Time

    • Exactly. This is the probably the best and least error prone book I know about his life. I've read it more than twice.

    • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:48PM (#48124775)

      "Exploiting Geniuses for Dummies" by Edison is my favorite.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Defintely Man Out Of Time. I read it last year and it's an amazingly detailed account and well researched. It's a great place to start and pretty balanced.

    • by cosm ( 1072588 )
      THIS! READ IT! That is all.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      The problem with this, and all other books I've found about Tesla, is its credulity. People interpret Tesla's oddities, such as synesthesia, in an almost mystical manner. Eg, his claim to be able to actively interact with imagined objects is accepted without question.

      My conclusion, after reading what I could find, is that Tesla had a cult of personality. I'm not denying he was a genius, but he proclaimed himself a "scientist" when in fact I think it's more accurate to say he was an inventor with great in

    • by Ozoner ( 1406169 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @11:11PM (#48127345)

      Have lately been reading everything I can find on Tesla, hoping to find a rational scientific explanation of his "discoveries".
      Unfortunately everything so far has been utter balderdash. Just an endless stream of hype.

      I had hoped that "Man Out of Time would be better, but sadly it is not.
      Cheney seems to be yet another author who has drunk the Tesla Cool Aid.

      We hear repeatedly about "Powerful Vacuum Tubes" which turn out to be Geissler tubes,
      and how Tesla would "let 100,000 volts harmlessly pass through his body" (no mention that it's high-impedance, and that nerves don't respond to H.F.)
      And talk about his secret "High Power Oscillator", which was just a steam-driven linear generator.
      Over and over we are told that "Scientists to this day don't know how this was done" when obviously most of it is third rate stage magic.

      Hopefully one day a technically literate author will write a book which describes Telsa's work, but without all the hype and misdirection.

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        "Hopefully one day a technically literate author will write a book which describes Telsa's work, but without all the hype and misdirection."

        that would be really, really nice. all the tesla stuff lately seems laced so heavily with conspiracy and free energy shit that it's not enjoyable to read at all. youtube is filled with tesla free energy devices of which none work and plenty aren't even based on his work - they just put the title there for it to be cool

    • Is it accurate, or more about the popular myths? Just the title seems to be building on the myth. People want to have some sort of science/tech god out there, and we first invented Edison as the god and didn't look closely at the reality, now the pendulum is swinging again and people want Tesla to be the god instead and also ignoring the reality.

    • There is also a follow-up to "Man Out of Time" - a coffee table book by Margaret Cheney & Robert Uth, "TESLA: Master of Lightning".
  • Recommended book (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:31PM (#48124657)

    "Tesla: Man Out of Time" by Margaret Cheney

    Google/Amazon it.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The book about Tesla's early childhood, education, emigration overseas, rise, fall and death...

      Written for kids, but surprisingly accurate. From croatian author Ivica Ivanac:
      "U tami svjetlo" (light in darkness)
      https://openlibrary.org/works/OL4238247W/U_tami_svjetlo--

      Probably the most inspiring book from my childhood.
      Not sure there is any version translated to English though....

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Give away a paperback bio of Tesla at their showrooms, with a foreward from Elon Musk.

    I'd swing by, and make appreciative comments about all the storage space under the hood.

  • New Book (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:32PM (#48124667)

    Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson

    • By the way, out of all the Edison related stuff that the comic strip is complaining about, the fact that he married a 16 year old should be taken in context. He was 24 at the time and girls were marrying at 16, there was nothing special or 'criminal' about it at all, people still marry at 16 even today.

  • Edison was an ego-maniacal self promoter, while Tesla wasn't that interested in whipping up the public over trivia.
    If you want more, read the book the previous two posters mention, I hear it does a pretty good job of explaining that stuff, though I haven't read it myself.
  • Read Tesla's patents (Score:5, Informative)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:34PM (#48124691) Homepage

    If you want a non-bullshit view of Tesla, read his patents. His real achievement was that he figured out most of the kinds of modern AC motors. It's not at all obvious how you get an AC motor started and turning in the right direction. Clever tricks with bits of copper in the magnetic circuit are used to bias starting direction, and synchronous motors start up as induction motors. Tesla worked all that out. It's very elegant. AC machine design is hard, and, unlike DC machine design, requires calculus. That was a big jolt for engineering at the time. Nothing before had required that much math to make it work.

    You can also read his thinking about the Wardenclyffe tower in his patents. He had RF propagation all wrong. He thought the ionosphere was a conductive layer. His plan was to punch through to the ionosphere by ionizing a path all the way up (!), and transmit power and signals conductively, using the ionosphere and the ground as a pair of conductors.

    • Now, this was one area where Tesla was right. Edison was stuck on DC, but it just isn't good for long range power transmission. Maybe it was pure stubborness, who knows.
      • but it just wasn't good for long range power transmission

        FTFY.

        • There are long range DC powerlines in use. They are effective in their implementation. There are also a lot of rabid rural types who rant about them and 'strange effects' that come from being near the lines. Almost batshit like Tesla in his later years.

    • by janimal ( 172428 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @02:05PM (#48124895)

      I understood the power transmission thing differently. I thought he wanted to resonate the capacitance of the Earth's atmosphere to transmit AC power. The reason that the idea didn't take off was that you can't meter the consumption. Anyone has access to siphon off the energy from the atmosphere. He had a solution that did not yield itself to a viable business model.

      • That, and it would be horrendously inefficient. He did manage to light up some bulbs from many miles away - but it took a power station to run the transmitter.

        In modern terms, he would be using the earth and atmosphere as a transmission line.

        Running it today would be a bad idea, too. The amount of energy he was using, it could easily interfere with and even damage the input stages of radio equipment.

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )
        It was mainly a misunderstanding of the atmosphere that required a lot of research to correct. The ionosphere is weird enough with what we know about it today.
        In a world without transmission lines it would have looked like it was worth giving it a try.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think the submitter wants a narative with something more than his technical acheivements.

      Like, what drove him to invent?

      His education?

      family life? Who encouraged him? Who inspired him? Why was he so inept at business - how the hell did Westinghouse screw him over?! Tesla was a genius but got screwed over by a business guy? Really? Was he THAT gullible?!

      There is MUCH more to a person than his technical acheivments and his patents.

      • Why was he so inept at business - how the hell did Westinghouse screw him over?! Tesla was a genius but got screwed over by a business guy? Really? Was he THAT gullible?!

        Typically, you trust the people you are working with the first one or two times, with the expectation that they will also trust you. Then your trust gets violated, and you either learn caution (e.g. "Get everything in writing"), or you continue to get screwed. If you've ever read the book "The Evolution of Cooperation" by Robert Axelrod, a perfectly logical player in the mutual security game will operate for mutual long term overall benefit, rather than short term benefit for themselves. Sadly, not every

      • by dbIII ( 701233 )

        Tesla was a genius but got screwed over by a business guy? Really? Was he THAT gullible?!

        It happens a lot today. Some dirty tricks like share dilution where you go from owning 50% of a company to 1% overnight without being informed are not obvious until it's happened. Then there's other stuff like splitting off all the assets into a new company and leaving the previous owners with nothing but debt - all at least partially reversible if you've got the cash to keep lawyers fed for a decade but it gets spru

    • by pthisis ( 27352 )

      If you want a non-bullshit view of Tesla, read his patents. His real achievement was that he figured out most of the kinds of modern AC motors. It's not at all obvious how you get an AC motor started and turning in the right direction. Clever tricks with bits of copper in the magnetic circuit are used to bias starting direction, and synchronous motors start up as induction motors. Tesla worked all that out

      Like Edison, Tesla had a surprising knack for suddenly inventing and patenting things that had been inv

    • by Beck_Neard ( 3612467 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @05:17PM (#48125787)

      > You can also read his thinking about the Wardenclyffe tower in his patents. He had RF propagation all wrong. He thought the ionosphere was a conductive layer. His plan was to punch through to the ionosphere by ionizing a path all the way up (!), and transmit power and signals conductively, using the ionosphere and the ground as a pair of conductors.

      I'm not sure where you're getting that from, but by looking through his writings I came to a completely different conclusion. You're right about his thinking that the ionosphere was a conductive layer, but he didn't intend to punch a current path through it. Instead he reasoned that the ground+atmosphere+ionosphere system was a huge resonant circuit. His idea was to excite it at its resonant frequency so that it would be able to store huge amounts of power which could then be tapped anywhere in the world.

  • The Tesla Archive. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:36PM (#48124705)

    Every extant article he ever wrote, in a 1GB PDF. Download here: http://aetherforce.com/the-tesla-archives-are-here-every-single-article-ever-written-by-tesla-free/

  • Because, to paraphrase the late computer science pioneer Alan Perlis [yale.edu], Alice in Wonderland is the best book ever written about anything.

  • Tesla Biography (Score:5, Informative)

    by shubus ( 1382007 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @01:45PM (#48124757)
    in 2013 the new Tesla Biography "Tesla - Inventor of the Electric Age" by W. Bernard Carlson was published. This book dispels many of the popular myths surrounding Tesla and is extremely well researched. Recommended reading for Tesla fans.
  • by calidoscope ( 312571 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @02:02PM (#48124867)

    While this book is not a Tesla biography, it does give a good picture of how Tesla fit in with the beginnings of the electric power industry. The book does give Tesla proper credit for the invention of poly-phase AC and the induction motor, but also points out that Stanley and Thomson were working on AC distribution before Tesla along with a lot of refinement on the induction motor being done by Benjamin Lamme.

    It is the likes of Lamme and Steinmetz that are the unsung heroes of the electrical age.

  • by Vellmont ( 569020 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @02:05PM (#48124893) Homepage

    Other people talk about the self-promotional nature of Edison, and how Tesla wasn't as interested in that. That's true, and that's a piece of the answer. But there's another more basic difference in what they invented. Edison invented end products that people came into contact with every day, like the electric light or the phonograph. Tesla invented the infra-structure necessary for modern life like AC power generation, and the AC motor. Those are hugely important, but the average person doesn't come into contact with them directly, only the effect of it.

    So it's much easier for the average person to see what Edison did for them, but harder for them to see what Tesla did for them. It shouldn't be any wonder that Tesla isn't well known.

    • @Vellmont: "Edison invented .. the electric light" ..

      No he didn't, he copied a design by Swan, was sued and later on went into 'partnership' to produce light-bulbs under the name of Ediswan. Edison could be considered the Bill Gates of his day.
      • What Edison invented was an incandescent light with a high enough resistance to make it possible to powered by a central station, along with the central station, a means of metering current, etc. Edison's work was mostly independent of Swan's.
        • "Joseph Swan, a British inventor, obtained the first patent for the same light bulb in Britain one year prior to Edison's patent date. Swan even publicly unveiled his carbon filament light bulb [coolquiz.com] in New Castle, England a minimum of 10 years before Edison shocked the world with the announcement that he invented the first light bulb. Edison's light bulb, in fact, was a carbon copy of Swan's light bulb".
  • by tom229 ( 1640685 ) on Sunday October 12, 2014 @02:19PM (#48124953)
    I didn't check if anyone recommended this yet, but pbs made a documentary "Tesla - The Master of Lightening". I thought it was amazing, and it's available on US Netflix.
  • But its one of my treasured books.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Comp... [amazon.com]

  • I found this documentary [youtube.com] very entertaining.

  • Depending on your language skills, you might try Vladimir Pistalo: "Nikola Testa, A Portrait Among the Masks" http://www.agora-books.co.rs/i... [agora-books.co.rs] or http://www.amazon.com/Pishtalo... [amazon.com] One curiosity from that book. Shortly after dropping out of school in Graz http://www.teslauniverse.com/n... [teslauniverse.com] he moved to Maribor http://www.teslauniverse.com/n... [teslauniverse.com] where wasted his energy on alcohol and gambling. What impressed me most was the way his mother cured him of gambling. After he was deported from Maribor back to Gospic
  • Back when Barnes and Noble had a lot more retail locations than they do now, there was always a table somewhere in the store with 'visionary' type books at remnant prices. It usually featured the kind of speculative fancy that these days plays on the 'Discover' channel (or has Discover gone off the air? I see such little television...) Anyhow, there are usually big coffee-table books about Alestair Crowley, Blavatsky, and of course a few books with public domain drawings by Tesla.

    Tesla was a rigorous sci

  • read about and _understand_ his work!
    a) its the awesome part anyhow
    b) considering his seemingly unending love for advances science, it would be only logical to conclude he would prefer people learning about his work than about "himself" (as in: cheap talk).

  • I'd say the best book has to be the collection of his papers taken by government agents from room #3327 on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker.

  • by cstacy ( 534252 )

    Watt goes around, comes around.

A computer scientist is someone who fixes things that aren't broken.

Working...