Tesla: Man Out of Time

Tesla: Man Out of Time

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by Margaret Cheney

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In Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney explores the brilliant and prescient mind of one of the twentieth century's greatest scientists and inventors. Called a madman by his enemies, a genius by others, and an enigma by nearly everyone, Nikola Tesla was, without a doubt, a trailblazing inventor who created astonishing, sometimes world-transforming devices


In Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney explores the brilliant and prescient mind of one of the twentieth century's greatest scientists and inventors. Called a madman by his enemies, a genius by others, and an enigma by nearly everyone, Nikola Tesla was, without a doubt, a trailblazing inventor who created astonishing, sometimes world-transforming devices that were virtually without theoretical precedent. Tesla not only discovered the rotating magnetic field -- the basis of most alternating-current machinery -- but also introduced us to the fundamentals of robotics, computers, and missile science. Almost supernaturally gifted, unfailingly flamboyant and neurotic, Tesla was troubled by an array of compulsions and phobias and was fond of extravagant, visionary experimentations. He was also a popular man-about-town, admired by men as diverse as Mark Twain and George Westinghouse, and adored by scores of society beauties.

From Tesla's childhood in Yugoslavia to his death in New York in the 1940s, Cheney paints a compelling human portrait and chronicles a lifetime of discoveries that radically altered -- and continue to alter -- the world in which we live. Tesla: Man Out of Time is an in-depth look at the seminal accomplishments of a scientific wizard and a thoughtful examination of the obsessions and eccentricities of the man behind the science.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Discover A dramatic and poignant portrait.

American Scientist Excellent...a significant contribution to the recent history of science...informative and delightful to read.

Publishers Weekly Well documented, sympathetic, and engaging.

Choice Cheney's excellent biography of one of the most idiosyncratic and truly enigmatic "scientists" is both comprehensive and well written...very warmly recommended.

The Sunday Times, London Uncommonly colorful...absorbing.

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Man Out of Time
By Margaret Cheney


Copyright © 2001 Margaret Cheney
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0743215362


Despite the flashy, dramatic, and often limelight attention that Nikola Tesla was given in the heyday of his reign in the fields of research and engineering, he maintained a very private personal life. Since he was a loner -- a perennial bachelor, working apart, not entering into corporate associations, and not mixing friends -- his personal life was obscure to outsiders. Such reclusiveness marking the career of one of the world's leading figures in science and engineering can pose severe analytical obstacles for a biographer. However, almost immediately after Tesla's death at the age of eighty-six in 1943, the biography Prodigal Genius appeared by John J. O'Neill, science editor of the New York Herald Tribune. For many years it stood as the only biography of Tesla, primarily because of the difficulty for any other would-be biographer to uncover significant additional information about him.

Following World War II, the tons of material representing Tesla's library were shipped to Belgrade, Yugoslavia, the country of his birth (Tesla was a U.S. citizen), where a state museum was established in his name. The circumstances surrounding the transfer of his estate to Yugoslavia are interesting but will not be commented upon here except to point out the problem of remoteness of such a museum for any biographer in this country, let alone the severe restrictions on access to archival materials that exist for researchers venturing to the museum.

In 1959, two rather short biographies of Tesla appeared. Dr. Helen Walter's book was intended for young people, and curiously contained illustration and frontispiece sketches quite unlike Tesla's appearance. Margaret Storm's book, published by herself and printed in green ink, was based on the assertion that Tesla was an embodiment of a superior being from the planet Venus! Another short biography intended for young people appeared in 1961 by Arthur Beckhard. Tesla's name was misspelled on the dust jacket (Tesla once wrote to a friend that he wished he could turn all the forked lightning in his laboratory on critics who misspell his name), and the book omits essentially everything on his life after 1900 (Tesla was then 44). All three authors leaned heavily on O'Neill's biography, as evidenced by the perpetuation of a number of erroneous legends that subsequent study has vitiated, and none of the three extended O'Neill's treatment.

Lightning in His Hand: The Life Story of Nikola Tesla, by Inez Hunt and Wanetta Draper, nearby residents of Colorado Springs, appeared in 1964, twenty years after O'Neill's biography. O'Neill did not venture to Colorado Springs, where Tesla established an experimental station in 1899 and conducted electrical experiments which to this very day amaze scientists the world over, and consequently did not benefit from information that could have been provided by residents of that city about Tesla's interactions with them. Tesla took on flesh and bones to some degree in Hunt and Draper's biography, and the book carried numerous photographs. Much of the focus of the book concerned Tesla's half-year stay in the Springs, which was the original intent of the authors.

Why should anyone actually wish to undertake another full biography after the appearance of O'Neill's Prodigal Genius? It has been considered the most authoritative biography extant, and probably was the best effort that could have been produced by anyone at that time, with the exception of Kenneth Swezey -- a science writer and Tesla's close personal friend during the last twenty-plus years of his life. However, from this vantage point of distance in time, O'Neill's biography is now seen to be weak insofar as it analyzed Tesla the man and thin with regard to his interactions with personal associates and friends. Even though O'Neill and Tesla were amicable, Tesla kept O'Neill at a distance, and O'Neill gleaned only what he was able to pry out of Tesla with great difficulty -- certainly not the most ideal liaison for a biographer.

Much information has surfaced since the appearance of O'Neill's biography, adding new dimensions to the extent of knowledge about Tesla. Many questions asked by students of his life have been answered; however, this unfolding has also presented many more mysteries. The Freedom of Information Acts revealed that the federal government had a great interest in Tesla's papers. Why shouldn't it? In the midst of World War II, and at press conferences, Tesla often startled reporters with talk of developing weapons with beams that would melt aircraft, telegeodynamics, and other advanced concepts. Whether real or speculative, the federal government took no chances. What became of these investigations by federal agencies is a story in itself.

In reviewing my own interest in Tesla, since high school days I was fascinated by his high frequency, high voltage researches for which he became world known. I was disturbed, however, by the inordinate difficulty in obtaining copies of his technical writings and, as well, identifying references to writings by others about Tesla's work. This prompted what was to become a project of many years -- that of producing an exhaustive catalog (published in 1979 as a bibliography and for which I served as co-editor) of the writings by and about Tesla and his work. In the course of pursuing studies in electrical engineering, and continuing interest in Tesla's high frequency, high voltage researches, my inquiries eventually led me to meet those who worked for him, such as his secretaries Dorothy Skerritt and Muriel Arbus, and laboratory technicians such as Walter Wilhelm. Along the way, his personal friends came into the picture as well as others who had known Tesla on a person-to-person basis.

As the Tesla Centennial (1956) approached, it became apparent that no observances were being arranged by the major scientific and engineering organizations in this country to signal the event. Together with Skerritt, Arbus, Wilhelm, and a number of other interested persons, therefore, I helped found the Tesla Society -- the function of which was to develop and coordinate activities for the centennial observance. Following the centennial year, the Society expired, but an awareness of Tesla's impact on society was regenerated in the hiatus since his death. An interest had been reawakened in the discoveries that he announced and demonstrated, but which had been retarded in development because of a technology lag in associated disciplines, such as material sciences.

Inspiration -- that is what he gave to other inventors whose endeavors his life spanned, and that is what his work continues to give to technical specialists in these times. On the occasion of Tesla's seventy-fifth birthday (1931), his contemporaries wrote that his lectures were then both as imaginative and inspirational to productive development as when they were first published forty years before that:

In almost every step of progress in electrical power engineering, as well as in radio, we can trace the spark of thought back to Nikola Tesla. There are few indeed who in their lifetime see realization of such a far-flung imagination. (E. F. W. Alexanderson)

In reading of Tesla's work one is constantly struck by his many suggestions which have anticipated later developments in the radio art. (Louis Cohen)

Prolific inventor, who solved the greatest problem in electrical engineering of his time, and gave to the world the polyphase motor and system of distribution, revolutionizing the power art and founding its phenomenal development. My contact as your assistant at the historic Columbia University high frequency lecture and afterward has left an indelible impression and inspiration which has influenced my life. (Gano Dunn)

You fanned into a never dying flame my latent interest in gaseous conduction. Early in 1894 I told our mutual friend that your book...which contains your original lectures, would still be considered a classic a hundred years hence. I have not changed my opinion. (D. McFarlan Moore)

I remember vividly the eagerness and fascination with which I read your account of the high tension experiments more than forty years ago. They were most original and daring: they opened up new vistas for exploration by thought and experiment. (W. H. Bragg)

There are three aspects of Tesla's work which particularly deserve our admiration: The importance of the achievements in themselves, as judged by their practical bearing; the logical clearness and purity of thought, with which the arguments are pursued and new results obtained; the vision and the inspiration, I should almost say the courage, of seeing remote things far ahead and so opening up new avenues to mankind. (I. C. M. Brentano)

Today, we yet find that the writings of Tesla retain their undiminished power of inspirational endeavor to the reader. Tesla was indeed out of his time, and this biography represents a distinct achievement in overcoming unusual investigative obstacles to bring his remarkable story to life.

Leland Anderson

Denver, Colorado

Copyright © 1981 by Margaret Cheney


Excerpted from Tesla by Margaret Cheney Copyright © 2001 by Margaret Cheney. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Margaret Cheney is a biographer of unusual versatility. In addition to her two major studies of Tesla (most recently Tesla: Master of Lightning, with Robert Uth), she has written Midnight at Mabel's, a biography of the great cabaret singer and song stylist Mabel Mercer. Cheney is also the author of Meanwhile Farm and Why: The Serial Killer in America. She lives in California.

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Tesla 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Nikola Tesla was an inventor who lived around a hundred years ago. He was perhaps the foremost electrical genius of his time. Everybody remembers Tommy Edison better, but the truth is that Tesla was probably the smarter man. While he has been forgotten, his inventions are all around us. The AM radio you listen to when driving to work? Tesla. The alternating current 'AC' electrical system that you plug things into at your house? Not possible without a host of inventions from Tesla. The fluorescent lighting in your office? Tesla helped develop them. The toy radio controlled boat you play with on Saturdays? Tesla built the first one. He even laid out a design for radar decades before the first one was built. One his best remembered inventions was the 'Tesla Coil.' He actually designed a number of different versions of these devices which are used take electricity and increase the frequency and voltage.........................Tesla had several ideas about how the coil could be used that included radio signals and wireless power transmission. When a Tesla coil is running it can produce impressive electrical show with sparks, and corona discharges. A giant coil built at Tesla's Colorado laboratory was capable of creating sparks 135 feet in length. As Tesla aged his inventions seem to become less and less practical. One of Tesla's last ideas was a charged particle beam. Such as 'death ray,' if built, would have been capable of downing airplanes or destroying objects at a distance. Though no death ray was ever built during Tesla's lifetime, both the U.S. and the USSR spent quit a bit of money trying to get it to work during the cold war. Tesla: Man Out Of Time by Margaret Cheney captures the legacy and accounts of a brilliant inventor's rewarding and troublesome life. Margaret Cheney gives a thorough and complete account of his life, from the experiments and ideas to the parties and social letters. A excellent book for anyone who isn't familiar with the scientific aspects of modern electrical engineering and wants a accurate explanation of Tesla's works.......................Hattely
Guest More than 1 year ago
I purchased this book in a B&N bookstore, where I love to browse and relax. I associated the name of Tesla with the 'Tesla Coil', but like many engineers my age, did not study him in college or know much about his career. What an eye-opener! I only wish that I had Ms. Cheney's book when I was in high school. I read it in one sitting, then re-read it again, quoting passages to my wife and anyone else who would listen. The book is fantastic, and about an incredibly talented electrical engineer. I wish it was required reading in all college engineering courses.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Cheney does a good job of detailing the life and work of Tesla,a Yugoslavian student who revealed the principles of alternating current and when emigrating to the US helped harness Niagra Falls as a hydroelectric source and was in constant disfavor in the eyes of Edison who felt AC was a threat to his discovery of DC. Tesla is somewhat a mystery and had a rich social life which included Mark Twain. Tesla dazzled people with his experiments, many of which are still enigmatic. The Tesla coil is named after him and he hoped one day the whole earth's atmosphere could be used to provide free and constant electric power wirelessly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Doing a research paper on Tesla and found this book to have many inaccurate facts when compared to Tesla's own writings and that of other authors. Wouldn't recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
BurriedInABook More than 1 year ago
This book is insightful and well-written. The collection of photographs in the book really help the reader understand Tesla's inventions.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would love to speak with Mr. Tesla - what an interesting person.
IneffableInexorable More than 1 year ago
I found this book fascinating and it was written in an easy, almost novelesque manner
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nikola's book "Tesla: Man Out of Time" is a very interesting book about an inventor truly out of his time. I never really knew the accomplishments of Tesla nor the way that he was raised; Tesla jumping from roof tops while light headed to see if he could fly.(genius in the making) I also never knew that he worked for Thomas Edison and made Alternate current. Also his uniqueness and passion for inventing which drove him to create many versions of the things we use today. Margret Cheney did a great job at writing about the inventor including much detail that let the image come to life in my mind. She also did a great job at making me feel more connected with the characters and their real lives. By the end of the book I found myself ever more wanting to build a time machine and go dine with amazing inventor him using numbers divisible by three and me using even numbers to count my chewing and other obsessive compulsive habits. I have to give the book 5-5 stars because of the great writing style of the author and the truly amazing life of an inventor who has made an impact on my life. I will always consider Nikola Tesla to be one of the greatest inventors in the world and this to be one of his greatest biographies good job Margret Cheney. By M.S.S.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really am enjoying the content but its not the most well structured biography
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Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the best and most engaging and entertaining works about the life and times of Nikola Tesla
Guest More than 1 year ago
This wonderful revelation of Nikola Tesla reminds me of Richard Patton's book 'The Autobiography of Jesus of Nazareth and the Missing Years' in which the human being was replaced by the Icon of Christianity. Tesla was politically emasculated so that we should believe he was a 'fringe' scientist instead of the great humanitarian this book reveals him to be. Both Patton and Cheney have revealed great men that came to release mankind from the illusion that we are not all connected to the greater force that many call God. Like Cheney's previous books on Tesla, this reveals new and wonderful frontiers that Tesla knew were real.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After working with electricity, electronics, and computers since I was sixteen and seeing my health run down in my thirties, I started to wonder if Nicola Tesla had the same experience. Sure enough, there are plenty of tales about his strange mental behaviors and nervous breakdowns. There are no doubts that he was brilliant in the first half of his life, but he was very clearly a sick man. One can only wonder why it has taken over a century for the toxicity of electricity to emerge when Tesla clearly was displaying problems from his exposures. The toxicity of electricity is an "inconvenient truth". This was a great book that gave me the answers that I was looking for. I am now back into good health after detoxifying from the toxic exposures that I had.