The Invention of Everything Else

The Invention of Everything Else

by Samantha Hunt

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Overview

New York City thrums with energy, wonder, and possibility in this magical novel about the life of Nikola Tesla.

 

It is 1943, and the renowned inventor Nikola Tesla occupies a forbidden room on the 33rd floor of the Hotel New Yorker, stealing electricity. Louisa, a young maid at the hotel determined to befriend him, wins his attention through a shared love of pigeons; with her we hear his tragic and tremendous life story unfold. Meanwhile, Louisa discovers that her father—and her handsome, enigmatic love interest, Arthur Vaughan—are on an unlikely mission to travel back in time and find his beloved late wife. A masterful hybrid of history, biography, and science fiction, The Invention of Everything Else is an absorbing story about love and death and a wonderfully imagined homage to one of history's most visionary scientists.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547085777
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 03/02/2009
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Samantha Hunt’s novel about Nikola Tesla, The Invention of Everything Else was a finalist for the Orange Prize and winner of the Bard Fiction Prize. Her first novel, The Seas, a twisted tale of mermaids, won the National Book Foundation’s Five under Thirty-five prize. She lives in upstate New York.
 

Read an Excerpt

Lightning first, then the thunder. And in between the two I’m reminded of a secret. I was a boy and there was a storm. The storm said something muffled. Try and catch me, perhaps, and then it bent down close to my ear in the very same way my brother Dane used to do. Whispering. A hot, damp breath, a tunnel between his mouth and my ear. The storm began to speak. You want to know what the storm said? Listen.
Things like that, talking storms, happen to me frequently. Take for example the dust here in my hotel room. Each particle says something as it drifts through the last rays of sunlight, pale blades that have cut their way past my closed curtains. Look at this dust. It is everywhere.
Here is the tiniest bit of a woman from Bath Beach who had her hair styled two days ago, loosening a few small flakes of scalp in the process.
Two days it took her to arrive, but here she is at last. She had to come because the hotel where I live is like the sticky tongue of a frog jutting out high above Manhattan, collecting the city particle by wandering particle. Here is some chimney ash. Here is some buckwheat flour blown in from a Portuguese bakery on Minetta Lane and a pellicle of curled felt belonging to the haberdashery around the corner.
Here is a speck of evidence from a shy graft inspector. Maybe he lived in the borough of Queens. Maybe a respiratory influenza killed him off in 1897. So many maybes, and yet he is still here. And, of course, so am I. Nikola Tesla, Serbian, world-famous inventor, once celebrated, once visited by kings, authors and artists, welterweight pugilists, scientists of all stripes, journalists with their prestigious awards, ambassadors, mezzo-sopranos, and ballerinas. And I would shout down to the dining hall captain for a feast to be assembled. “Quickly! Bring us the Stuffed Saddle of Spring Lamb. Bring us the Mousse of Lemon Sole and the Shad Roe Belle Meunicre! Potatoes Raclette! String Bean Sauté! Macadamia nuts! A nice bourbon, some tonic, some pear nectar, coffees, teas, and please, please make it fast!” That was some time ago. Now, more regularly, no one visits. I sip at my vegetable broth listening for a knock on the door or even footsteps approaching down the hallway. Most often it turns out to be a chambermaid on her rounds. I’ve been forgotten here. Left alone talking to lightning storms, studying the mysterious patterns the dust of dead people makes as it floats through the last light of day.
Now that I have lived in the Hotel New Yorker far longer than any of the tourists or businessmen in town for a meeting, the homogeneity of my room, a quality most important to any hotel décor, has all but worn off. Ten years ago, when I first moved in, I constructed a wall of shelves. It still spans floor to ceiling. The wall consists of seventy-seven fifteen-inch-tall drawers as well as a number of smaller cubbyholes to fill up the odd spaces. The top drawers are so high off the ground that even I, at over six feet tall, am forced to keep a wooden step stool behind the closet door to access them. Each drawer is stained a deep brown and is differentiated from the others by a small card of identification taped to the front. The labels have yellowed under the adhesive. COPPER WIRE. CORRESPONDENCE. MAGNETS. PERPETUAL MOTION. MISC.
Drawer #42. It sticks and creaks with the weather. This is the drawer where I once thought I’d keep all my best ideas. It contains only some cracked peanut shells. It is too dangerous to write my best ideas down. “Whoops. Wrong drawer. Whoops.” I repeat the word. It’s one of my favorites. If it were possible I’d store “Whoops” in the safe by my bed, along with “OK” and “Sure thing” and the documents that prove that I am officially an American citizen.
Drawer #53 is empty, though inside I detect the slightest odor of ozone. I sniff the drawer, inhaling deeply. Ozone is not what I am looking for. I close #53 and open #26. Inside there is a press clipping, something somebody once said about my work: “Humanity will be like an antheap stirred up with a stick. See the excitement coming!” The excitement, apparently, already came and went.
That is not what I’m looking for.
Somewhere in one of the seventy-seven drawers I have a clipping from an article published in the New York Times. The article includes a photo of the inventor Guglielmo Marconi riding on the shoulders of men, a loose white scarf held in his raised left hand, flagging the breeze. All day thoughts of Marconi have been poking me in the ribs. They often do whenever I feel particularly low or lonely or poorly financed. I’ll shut my eyes and concentrate on sending Marconi a message. The message is, “Marconi, you are a thief.” I focus with great conceentration until I can mentally access the radio waves. As the invisible waves advance through my head I attach a few words to each — “donkey,” and “worm,” and “limacine,” which is an adjective that I only recently acquired the meaning of, like a slug. When I’m certain that the words are fixed to the radio waves I’ll send the words off toward Marconi, because he has stolen my patents. He has stolen my invention of radio. He has stolen my notoriety. Not that either of us deserved it. Invention is nothing a man can own.
And so I am resigned.
Out the window to the ledge, thirty-three stories above the street, I go legs first. This is no small feat. I am no small man. Imagine an oversized skeleton. I have to wonder what a skeleton that fell thirty-three stories, down to the street below, would look like. I take one tentative glance toward the ground. Years ago power lines would have stretched across the block in a mad cobweb, a net, because years ago, any company that wanted to provide New York with electricity simply strung its own decentralized power lines all about the city before promptly going out of business or getting forced out by J. P. Morgan. But now there is no net. The power lines have been hidden underground.
That’s not why I’ve come here. I have no interest in jumping. I’m not resigned to die. Most certainly not. No, I’m resigned only to leave humans to their humanness. Die? No. Indeed, I’ve always planned to see the far side of one hundred and twenty-five. I’m only eighty-six. I’ve got thirty-nine more years. At least.
“HooEEEhoo. HooEEEhoo.” The birds answer the call. Gray flight surrounds me, and the reverse swing of so many pairs of wings, some iridescent, some a bit duller, makes me dizzy. The birds slow to a landing before me, beside me, one or two perching directly on top of my shoulders and head. Mesmerized by their feathers — such engineering! — I lose my balance. The ledge is perhaps only forty-five centimeters wide. My shoulders lurch forward a bit, just enough to notice the terrific solidity of the sidewalks thirty-three stories down. Like a gasp for air, I pin my back into the cold stone of the window’s casing.
A few pigeons startle and fly away out over Eighth Avenue, across Manhattan. Catching my breath, I watch them go. I watch them disregard gravity, the ground, and the distance between us. And though an old feeling, one of wings, haunts my shoulder blades, I stay pinned to the window. I’ve learned that I cannot go with them.
Out on the ledge of my room, I maintain a small infirmary for injured and geriatric pigeons. A few tattered boxes, some shredded newspaper. One new arrival hobbles on a foot that has been twisted into an angry knuckle, a pink stump. I see she wants nothing more to do with the hydrogen peroxide that bubbled fiercely in her wound last night. I let her be, squatting instead to finger the underside of another bird’s wing. Beneath his sling the ball of his joint has finally stayed lodged in its orbit, and for this I am relieved. I turn my attention to mashing meal.
“Hello, dears.” The air of New York this high up smells gray with just a hint of blue. I sniff the air. “It’s getting chilly, hmm?” I ask the birds. “And what are your plans for the New Year tonight?” The hotel has been in a furor, preparing for the festivities all week. The birds say nothing. “No plans yet? No, me neither.” I stand, looking out into the darkening air. “HooEEEhoo?” It’s a question. I stare up into the sky, wondering if she will show tonight. “HooEEEhoo?” Having lived in America for fifty-nine years, I’ve nearly perfected my relationships with the pigeons, the sparrows, and the starlings of New York City. Particularly the pigeons. Humans remain a far greater challenge.
I sit on the ledge with the birds for a long while, waiting for her to appear. It is getting quite cold. As the last rays of sun disappear from the sky, the undersides of the clouds glow with a memory of the light. Then they don’t anymore, and what was once clear becomes less so in the darkening sky. The bricks and stones of the surrounding buildings take on a deeper hue. A bird cuts across the periphery of my sight. I don’t allow myself to believe it might be her. “HooEEEhoo?” Don’t look, I caution my heart. It won’t be her. I take a look just the same. A gorgeous checkered, his hackle purple and green. It’s not her.
She is pale gray with white-tipped wings, and into her ear I have whispered all my doubts. Through the years I’ve told her of my childhood, the books I read, a history of Serbian battle songs, dreams of earthquakes, endless meals and islands, inventions, lost notions, love, architecture, poetry — a bit of everything. We’ve been together since I don’t remember when. A long while. Though it makes no sense, I think of her as my wife, or at least something like a wife, inasmuch as any inventor could ever have a wife, inasmuch as a bird who can fly could ever love a man who can’t.
Most regularly she allows me to smooth the top of her head and neck with my pointer finger. She even encourages it. I’ll run my finger over her feathers and feel the small bones of her head, the delicate cage made of calcium built to protect the bit of magnetite she keeps inside. This miraculous mineral powers my system of alternating-current electrical distribution. It also gives these birds direction, pulling north, creating a compass in their bodies, ensuring that they always know the way home.
I’ve not seen my own home in thirty-five years. There is no home anymore. Everyone is gone. My poor, torn town of Smiljan — in what was once Lika, then Croatia, now Yugoslavia. “I don’t have wings,” I tell the birds who are perched beside me on the ledge. “I don’t have magnetite in my head.” These deficiencies punish me daily, particularly as I get older and recall Smiljan with increasing frequency.
When I was a child I had a tiny laboratory that I’d constructed in an alcove of trees. I nailed tin candle sconces to the trunks so that I could work into the night while the candles’ glow crept up the orange bark and filled my laboratory with odd shadows — the stretched fingers of pine needles as they shifted and grew in the wind.
There is one invention from that time, one of my very first, that serves as a measure for how the purity of thought can dwindle with age. Once I was clever. Once I was seven years old. The invention came to me like this: Smiljan is a very tiny town surrounded by mountains and rivers and trees. My house was part of a farm where we raised animals and grew vegetables. Beside our home was a church where my father was the minister. In this circumscribed natural setting my ears were attuned to a different species of sounds: footsteps approaching on a dirt path, raindrops falling on the hot back of a horse, leaves browning. One night, from outside my bedroom window, I heard a terrific buzzing noise, the rumble of a thousand insect wings beating in concert. I recognized the noise immediately. It signaled the seasonal return of what people in Smiljan called May bugs, what people in America call June bugs. The insects’ motions, their constant energy, kept me awake through the night, considering, plotting, and scheming. I roiled in my bed with the possibility these insects presented.
Finally, just before the sun rose, I sneaked outside while my family slept. I carried a glass jar my mother usually used for storing stewed vegetables. The jar was nearly as large as my rib cage. I removed my shoes — the ground was still damp. I walked barefoot through the paths of town, stopping at every low tree and shrub, the leaves of which were alive with June bugs. Their brown bodies hummed and crawled in masses. They made my job of collection quite easy. I harvested the beetle crop, sometimes collecting as many as ten insects per leaf. The bugs’ shells made a hard click when they struck against the glass or against another bug. So plentiful was the supply that the jar was filled to brimming in no time.
I returned to my pine-tree laboratory and set to work. First, by constructing a simple system of gear wheels, I made an engine in need of a power supply. I then studied the insects in the jar and selected those that demonstrated the most aggressive and muscular tendencies. With a dab of glue on their thorax undersides, I stuck my eight strongest beetles to the wheel and stepped back. The glue was good; they could not escape its harness. I waited a moment, and in that moment my thoughts grew dark. Perhaps, I thought, the insects were in shock. I pleaded with the bugs, “Fly away!” Nothing. I tickled them with a twig. Nothing. I stomped my small feet in frustration and stepped back prepared to leave the laboratory and hide away from the failed experiment in the fronds of breakfast, when, just then, the engine began to turn. Slowly at first, like a giant waking up, but once the insects understood that they were in this struggle together their speed increased. I gave a jump of triumph and was immediately struck by a vision of the future in which humans would exist in a kingdom of ease, the burden of all our chores and travails would be borne by the world of insects. I was certain that this draft of the future would come to pass. The engine spun with a whirling noise. It was brilliant, and for a few moments I burned with this brilliance.
In the time it took me to complete my invention the world around me had woken up. I could hear the farm animals. I could hear people speaking, beginning their daily work. I thought how glad my mother would be when I told her that she’d no longer have to milk the goats and cows, as I was developing a system where insects would take care of all that. This was the thought I was tumbling joyfully in when Vuk, a boy who was a few years older than me, entered into the laboratory. Vuk was the urchin son of an army officer. He was no friend of mine but rather one of the older children in town who, when bored, enjoyed needling me, vandalizing the laboratory I had built in the trees. But that morning my delight was such that I was glad to see even Vuk. I was glad for a witness. Quickly I explained to him how I had just revolutionized the future, how I had developed insect energy, the source that would soon be providing the world with cheap, replenishable power. Vuk listened, glancing once or twice at the June bug engine, which, by that time, was spinning at a very impressive speed. His envy was thick; I could nearly touch it. He kept his eyes focused on the glass jar that was still quite full of my power source. Vuk twisted his face up to a cruel squint. He curled the corners of his fat lips. With my lecture finished, he nodded and approached the jar. Unscrewing the lid he eyed me, as though daring me to stop him. Vuk sank his hand, his filthy fingernails, down into the mass of our great future and withdrew a fistful of beetles. Before I could even understand the annihilation I was about to behold, Vuk raised his arm to his mouth, opened the horrid orifice, and began to chew. A crunching sound I will never forget ensued. Tiny exoskeletons mashed between molars, dark legs squirming for life against his chubby white chin. With my great scheme crashing to a barbarous end — I could never look at a June bug again — I ran behind the nearest pine tree and promptly vomited.

On the ledge the birds are making a noise that sounds like contentment, like the purr of the ocean from a distance. I forget Vuk. I forget all thoughts of humans. I even forget about what I was searching for in the wall of drawers until, staring out at the sky, I don’t forget anymore.
On December 12, 1901, Marconi sent a message across the sea. The message was simple. The message was the letter S. The message traveled from Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada. This S traveled on air, without wires, passing directly through mountains and buildings and trees, so that the world thought wonders might never cease. And it was true. It was a magnificent moment. Imagine, a letter across the ocean without wires.
But a more important date is October 1893, eight years earlier. The young Marconi was seated in a crowded café huddled over, intently reading a widely published and translated article written by me, Nikola Tesla. In the article I revealed in exacting detail my system for both wireless transmission of messages and the wireless transmission of energy. Marconi scribbled furiously.
I pet one bird to keep the chill from my hands. The skin of my knee is visible through my old suit. I am broke. I have given AC electricity to the world. I have given radar, remote control, and radio to the world, and because I asked for nothing in return, nothing is exactly what I got. And yet Marconi took credit. Marconi surrounded himself with fame, strutting as if he owned the invisible waves circling the globe.
Quite honestly, radio is a nuisance. I know. I’m its father. I never listen to it. The radio is a distraction that keeps one from concentrating.
“HooEEEhoo?” There is no answer.
I’ll have to go find her. It is getting dark and Bryant Park is not as close as it once was, but I won’t rest tonight if I don’t see her. Legs first, I reenter the hotel, and armed with a small bag of peanuts, I set off for the park where my love often lives. The walk is a slow one, as the streets are beginning to fill with New Year’s Eve revelers. I try to hurry, but the sidewalks are busy with booby traps. One gentleman stops to blow his nose into a filthy handkerchief, and I dodge to the left, where a woman tilts her head back in a laugh. Her pearl earrings catch my eye. Just the sight of those monstrous jewels sets my teeth on edge, as if my jaws were being ground down to dull nubs. Through this obstacle course I try to outrun thoughts of Marconi. I try to outrun the question that repeats and repeats in my head, paced to strike with every new square of sidewalk I step on. The question is this: “If they are your patents, Niko, why did Marconi get word — well, not word but letter — why did he get a letter across the ocean before you?” I walk quickly. I nearly run. Germs be damned. I glance over my shoulder to see if the question is following.
I hope I have outpaced it.
New York’s streets wend their way between the arched skyscrapers. Most of the street-level businesses have closed their doors for the evening. Barbizon Hosiery. Conte’s Salumeria, where a huge tomcat protects the drying sausages. Santangelo’s Stationery and Tobacco. Wasserstein’s Shoes. Jung’s Nautical Maps and Prints. The Wadesmith Department Store. All of them closed for the holiday. My heels click on the sidewalks, picking up speed, picking up a panic. I do not want this question to catch me, and worse, I do not want the answer to this question to catch me. I glance behind myself one more time. I have to find her tonight.
I turn one corner and the question is there, waiting, smoking, reading the newspaper. I pass a lunch counter and see the question sitting alone, slurping from a bowl of chicken soup. “If they are your patents, Niko, why did Marconi send a wireless letter across the ocean before you?” The question makes me itch. I decide to focus my thoughts on a new project, one that will distract me. As I head north, I develop an appendix of words that begin with the letter S, words that Marconi’s first wireless message stood for.
1. saber-toothed 2. sabotage 3. sacrilege 4. sad 5. salacious 6. salesman 7. saliva 8. sallow 9. sanguinary 10. sap 11. sarcoma 12. sardonic 13. savage 14. savorless 15. scab 16. scabies 17. scalawag 18. scald 19. scandal 20. scant 21. scar 22. scarce 23. scary 24. scatology 25. scorn 26. scorpion 27. scourge 28. scrappy 29. screaming 30. screed 31. screwball 32. scrooge 33. scrupulousness 34. scuffle 35. scum 36. scurvy 37. seizure 38. selfish 39. serf 40. sewer 41. shabby 42. shady 43. sham 44. shameless 45. shark 46. shifty 47. sick 48. siege 49. sinful 50. sinking 51. skewed 52. skunk 53. slander 54. slaughter 55. sleaze 56. slink 57. slobber 58. sloth 59. slug 60. slur 61. smear 62. smile 63. snake 64. sneak 65. soulless 66. spurn 67. stab 68. stain 69. stale 70. steal 71. stolen 72. stop stop stop.

Marconi is not the one to blame. But if he isn’t, I have to wonder who is.
About ten years ago Bryant Park was redesigned. Its curves were cut into straight lines and rimmed with perennial flower beds. Years before that a reservoir, one with fifty-foot-high walls, sat off to the east, filled with silent, still water as if it were a minor sea in the middle of New York City. As I cross into the park I feel cold. I feel shaky. I feel as if it is the old reservoir and not the park that I am walking into. My chest is constricted by the pressure of this question, by this much water. I look for her overhead, straining to collect the last navy light in the sky. Any attempt to swim to the surface is thwarted by a weakness in my knees, by “Why did Marconi get all the credit for inventing radio?” The reservoir’s been gone for years. Still, I kick my legs for the surface. My muscles feel wooden and rotten. I am only eighty- six. When did my body become old? My legs shake. I am embarrassed for my knees. If she won’t come tonight the answer will be all too clear. Marconi took the credit because I didn’t. Yes, I invented radio, but what good is an invention that exists only in one’s head?
I manage a “HooEEEhoo?” and wait, floating until, through the water overhead, there’s a ripple, a white-tipped flutter. “HooEEEhoo! HooEEEhoo!” The sight of her opens a door, lets in the light, and I’m left standing on the dry land of Bryant Park. She is here. I take a deep breath. The park is still and peaceful. She lands on top of Goethe’s head. Goethe, cast here in bronze, does not seem to mind the intrusion of her gentle step.
We’re alone. My tongue is knotted, unsure how to begin. My heart catches fire. “I watched for you at the hotel,” I say.
She does not answer but stares at me with one orange eye, an eye that remembers me before all this gray hair set in, back when I was a beauty too. Sometimes it starts like this between us. Sometimes I can’t hear her. I take a seat on a nearby bench. I’ll have to concentrate. On top of Goethe’s head she looks like a brilliant idea. Her breast is puffed with breath. Agitation makes it hard to hear what she is saying.
“Perhaps you would like some peanuts?” I ask, removing the bag from my pocket. I spread some of the nut meats out carefully along the base of the statue before sitting back down.
She is here. I will be fine. The air is rich with her exhalations. It calms me. I’m OK even when I notice that the question has slithered out of the bushes. It has settled down on the bench beside me, less a menace now, more like an irritating companion I long ago grew used to. I still my mind to hers and then I can hear.
“Niko, who is your friend?” she asks.
I turn toward it. The question has filled the bench beside me, spilling over into my space, squashing up against my thigh. The question presents itself to her. “If they were Nikola’s patents, why did Marconi get all the credit for inventing the radio?” “Hmm,” she says. “That’s a very good question indeed.” She fluffs her wings into flight, lowering herself from Goethe’s head, over the point of his tremendous nose, down to where I’d spread a small supper for her. She begins to eat, carefully pecking into one peanut. She lifts her head. The manifestation of precision. “There are many answers to that question, but what do you think, Niko?” It seems so simple in front of her. “I suppose I allowed it to happen,” I say, finally able to bear this truth now that she is here. “At the time I couldn’t waste months, years, developing an idea I already knew would work. I had other projects I had to consider.” “Yes, you’ve always been good at considering,” she says. “It’s carrying an idea to fruition that is your stumbling block. And the world requires proof of genius inventions. I suppose you know that now.” She is strolling the pedestal’s base. I notice a slight hesitation to her walk. “Are you feeling all right?” I ask.
“I’m fine.” She turns to face me, changing the subject back to me. “Then there is the matter of money.” “Yes. I’ve never wanted to believe that invention requires money but have found lately that good ideas are very hard to eat.” She smiles at this. “You could have been a rich man seventy times over,” she reminds me.
“Yes,” I say. It’s true.
“You wanted your freedom instead. ‘I would not suffer interference from any experts,’ is how you put it.” And then it is my turn to smile. “But really.” I lean forward. “Who can own the invisible waves traveling through the air?” “Yes. And yet, somehow, plenty of people own intangible things all the time.” “Things that belong to all of us! To no one! Marconi,” I spit as if to remind her, “will never be half the inventor I am.” She ruffles her feathers and stares without blinking. I tuck my head in an attempt to undo my statement, my bluster.
“Marconi,” she reminds me, “has been dead for six years.” She stares again with a blank eye, and so I try, for her sake, to envision Marconi in situations of nobility. Situations where, for example, Marconi is being kind to children or caring for an aging parent. I try to imagine Marconi stopping to admire a field of purple cow vetch in bloom. Marconi stoops, smells, smiles, but in every imagining I see his left hand held high, like victory, a white scarf fluttering in the breeze.
“Please,” she finally says. “Not this old story, darling.” Her eye remains unblinking. She speaks to me and it’s like thunder, like lightning that burns to ash my bitter thoughts of Marconi.
Bryant Park seems to have fallen into my dream. We are alone, the question having slithered off in light of its answer. She finishes her meal while I watch my breath become visible in the dropping temperature.
“It’s getting cold,” I tell her.
“Yes.” “Perhaps you should come back to the hotel. I can make you your own box on the sill. It will be warmer there. It’s New Year’s Eve.” She stops to consider this. She doesn’t usually like the other birds that hang around my windowsill.
“Please. I worry.” “Hmm.” She considers it.
“Come back to the hotel with me.” “Excuse me?” a deep male voice answers. Not hers.
I look up. Before me is a beat cop. His head is nearly as large as Goethe’s bronze one. His shoulders are as broad as three of me. He carries a nightstick, and seeing no other humans around, he seems to imagine that I am addressing him. The thought makes me laugh.
Any human passing by would think that I am sitting alone in the park at night, talking to myself. This is precisely my problem with so many humans. Their hearing, their sight, all their senses, have been dulled to receive information on such limited frequencies. I muster a bit of courage. “Do we not look into each other’s eyes and all in you is surging, to your head and heart, and weaves in timeless mystery, unseeable, yet seen, around you?” “What in God’s name are you talking about?” the policeman asks.
“Goethe,” I say, motioning to the statue behind him.
“Well, Goethe yourself on home now, old man. It’s late and it’s cold.
You’ll catch your death here.” She is still perched on one corner of the bust’s pedestal. Old man. Karl Fischer cast the head in 1832; then the Goethe Club here in New York took it for a bit until they sent it off to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The museum didn’t have much use for it, so they “donated” it to Bryant Park a few years ago. Goethe’s head has been shuffled off nearly as many times as I have.
“I know how you feel,” I tell the head.
Goethe stays quiet.
“Come on, old-timer,” the policeman says, reaching down to grab my forearm. It seems I am to be escorted from the park.
“This clown’s got no idea who I am,” I say to her. “He thinks I’m a vagrant.” She looks at me as if taking a measure. She alone cuts through the layers of years and what they’ve done. She is proud of me. “Why don’t you just tell him?” she asks. “You invented radio and alternating current.” Goethe finally speaks up. “Oh, yes,” he says. “I’m sure he’d believe you.” The policeman can’t hear either of them. Even if he could, Goethe is right — this officer would never believe a word of it. “You’re the King of England, I suppose,” the cop says. “We get about ten King of Englands in here every week.” The cop has his bear paws latched around my forearm and is steering me straight out of the park. Resistance, I have a strong feeling, would prove ineffective.
“Are you coming?” I ask her, but when I look back at the pedestal, she is gone. The solidity of the police officer’s grip is the one certainty.
She has flown away, taking all of what I know with her — the Hotel New Yorker, Smiljan, the pigeons, my life as a famous inventor.

* * * * * *

You already asked me that question.

Yes, but we are just trying to be sure. Now, you have said that you have no memory of your activities on January 4th, and yet you have also said that you are certain you did not visit with Mr. Nicola Tesla, who was at that time a guest in your hotel. What we wonder is, how can you be certain you did not visit with him when you say you can’t remember what you did?

I see.

Why don’t you just tell us what you remember.

Mr. Tesla didn’t do anything wrong.

Why don’t you just tell us what you remember.

Copyright (c) 2008 by Samantha Hunt. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

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The Invention of Everything Else 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This beautiful novel about the life of Tesla made me wish the book would never end. It recreates New York City in both the 1890s and 1940s. The novel goes far beyond a simple telling of Tesla's life, raising questions about contemporary corporately controlled invention. Tesla was the last of his kind, beautifully evoked and remembered in this novel.
jasonlf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tells the story of Tesla's last years in New York, outstanding, imaginative.
coolmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a brilliant story!Samantha Hunt has taken us inside the mind of Nickola Tesla - an inventor that I must admit I knew nothing about, from the late 1880's up to his death in 1943.While living a two room "do not disturb" room at the New Yorker Hotel in its heyday, chambermaid Louisa wanders into his room and into his life.We are listening to Nikola's delusions and conversations to his long dead brother, his lover pigeon, and his friend Sam (Mark Twain) which is how his story comes about.Louisa's father Walter tries to contact his long dead wife Freddie through the use of a time travel machine his old friend Azor has made.Mixed in is a romance with Arthur - a mechanic who may or may not be of this earth.A wonderful, exciting, thrilling tale from the talented Samantha Hunt!
wonderbook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enter the mind of NikolaTesla, physicist, engineer and inventor. At a ripe old age his mind is the world in a nutshell. Get to know him through his lifetime of memories, conversations with his friend Sam (Mark Twain) and through the eyes of Louisa, a compulsively curious young chambermaid who daily cleans the rooms of the Hotel New Yorker where Tesla lives on the 33rd floor. They become friends because he has caught her snooping in his room and she has almost killed herself with his "invention of everything else". They also have a common love and care for pigeons. The author has created a brilliant story that will be enjoyed by those who don't know anything about Tesla because everyone has certainly looked at lightning with wonder or felt the small shock of static electricity. It will be difficult not to empathize with him. His history is close to tragic as he explains that he is not from Venus or Mars but from Smiljan, Croatia. In the novel his tale is entwined with Louisa, her father the night watchman at the New York Public Library, her love interest Walter, and her father's quirky friend Azor who has invented a time machine. Amidst the inventions there are four love stories and a prodigious amount of concepts that seem so pertinent now, as we are all faced with T.V. commercials telling us to turn out a light to conserve energy and to turn off a faucet to conserve water.
ALoyacano on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I picked this up because I was interested in Tesla the inventor, but I ended up being interested in Tesla the man. This is a catalyst of a novel that begs the reader to dive into the science and the struggle behind this extraordinary man.
brianinbuffalo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For years, I've been interested in the life of offbeat inventor Nikola Tesla, including his wars with Tom Edison. So I was eager to read Hunt's work of historical fiction. Unfortunately, I just couldn't get through it. For me, the storyline moved at a proverbial snail's pace. The elements of intrigue the author introduced in the first half of the book weren't strong enough to spur me to finish it. How disappointing.
icedtea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I knew nothing of Nikola Tesla prior to reading this, but the author does a great job weaving in fact to fiction. I enjoyed all the details about New York city and the huge Hotel New Yorker complex. An interesting mix of science, fantasy, and history with a bit of romance.
craso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Nikola Tesla, famous inventor and pigeon lover, is living out his last days in the Hotel New Yorker. He is haunted by memories of triumphs, failures and past loves. Louisa is a maid at the hotel. Her life consists of her eccentric father Walter, their homing pigeons and listening to radio dramas. One day the electricity goes out in the hotel and the only light is coming from under the door of room 3327; Tesla¿s room. She becomes intrigued with Tesla and decides to befriend him. Using her hotel pass key she snoops around his room and discovers secrets from his past. Tesla catches her but forgives her because of their shared love of pigeons. Louisa then meets Arthur, who might be from the future, and they begin to fall in love. Walter¿s best friend Azor, who has been gone for two years, reappears claiming to have invented a time machine. Walter hopes to use the machine to visit Louisa¿s dead mother. The themes in this book are dreams, memories and love. Dreams represent the future. Tesla dreams of free electricity and communications with other planets. Azor dreams of building a time machine. Memories are the past. Tesla¿s regrets; the death of his brother, loss of the people he loved, projects he could never complete and Walter¿s memories of his dead wife Freddie. A time machine can take you forward or backward in time, to the future where dreams are fulfilled or the past where things lost, can be regained. Love is what motivates these characters; the love between a father and a daughter, the love of a husband for his wife, the love of two friends, and the budding of love between two young people. I enjoyed reading about these eccentric dreamers. Everything was a new adventure, something to look forward to. Nothing was out of the realm of possibility.
auntmarge64 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Built on many of the known facts of Nikola Tesla's life, this novel imagines his last week, living in poverty in New York City, talking to the pigeon he considered his wife, rambling through memories of inventions and theories, his few triumphs and many ill-deserved slights from the scientific world. The book is told alternately through his own first person voice and the third-person voice of a fictional maid who befriends him in those last few days. There is some beautiful writing here, and moments of great poignance, but as a whole the story didn't hang together for me. It did, however, spur me to learn more about his life, which was of huge significance to our modern way of life but which has been largely unrecognized and undervalued.
jocraddock on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Easily the most enjoyable historical fiction I've read in some time! Although I'm not typically drawn to far-flung fantasy (still haven't made it through Time Traveller's Wife), the juxtaposition of the present and potential, the factual and the fantasy in this is delightful.Now, can someone explain why Tesla's name has come up serendipitously about twice a week since I read this book? Or could he and his friends have told me?
kidzdoc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Louisa is a dreamy young woman who works as a chambermaid at The Hotel New Yorker during World War II. She frequently goes through her guests' personal belongings, to learn more about them and to create fantasies of their lives for her own entertainment. One day one of her colleagues calls out sick, and she is reassigned to the 33rd and 34th floors of the hotel. She soon discovers that the occupant of Room 3327 is the famous but aged inventor Nicola Tesla, who has lived in the hotel for years despite being destitute and in arrears on his rent for several months. While cleaning his room the next day, she is caught by him as she is reading a manuscript of his life. The two strike up a friendship, due to their shared love of pigeons and to Louisa's interest in his life and his inventions.She has a chance encounter on the subway with a high school classmate, and their mutual love of homing pigeons and science fantasy lead to a love affair. Her father, whose wife died many years in the past, re-encounters his best friend, who invites him to a radio science program where he will discuss his new invention, which will change all of their lives. At the same time, Louisa learns that Tesla is also working on a grand project, which he hopes will win him the acclaim that he did not receive in the past.Many of the events in this extensively researched and well told novel are based on real details of Tesla's life. It is also on the shortlist for the 2009 Orange Prize for Fiction. It was a very enjoyable and worthwhile read overall, although I found it to be overly detailed in some sections.
vfranklyn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very well written novel based on Nikola Tesla's life. The length of the book is misleading, it took me much longer to finish this book than it would normally take me for a book this length. I think this is because there isn't a lot of action in the book. Still, I really enjoyed this book.
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Strange and fascinating, Samantha Hunt¿s The Invention of Everything Else floats in and out of the life of Nikola Tesla, the inventor of AC electricity and wireless communication. The novel has an ethereal feel to it, drifting in time between Tesla¿s younger days and the end of his life, when he was practically destitute, unrecognized for his genius. Thrown into the story is Louisa, a maid in the hotel where the 83 year old Tesla resides. The book touches on time travel, pigeons, love and the wonder of all things possible. A noteworthy read.
Jemima79 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The once famous inventor Nikola Tesla has been "left alone talking to lightning storms, studying the mysterious patterns the dust of dead people makes as it floats through the last light of day." (p.2) He lives in the Hotel New Yorker; a lonely, penniless, forgotten old man. His only companionship is pigeons and memories of former years. Louisa, a chambermaid in the same hotel has an infatuation with radio dramas and a love for the pigeons that she keeps on the roof of her house. She learns about the eccentric guest Mr. Tesla and lets herself into his room. In the course of her repeated snooping she tries out a strange invention and reads the biographical manuscript about Tesla's life that she finds. It is through this manuscript and flashbacks that we catch snippets of Tesla's early life, his struggles with lack of money and recognition, his friendships and we also learn about some of his inventions. The most important inventions of Tesla were to do with AC electrical distribution and wireless radio communications (commonly attributed to Marconi).As the unlikely friendship between chambermaid and inventor develops Hunt also weaves in a subplot concerning Louisa, her father, her boyfriend and a family friend who has invented a time machine. The close relationship between father and daughter is haunted by the early death of Louisa's mother and this continual loss and loneliness permeates the entire novel. These same emotions are experienced by Tesla as he faces his old age with grief and loss at the sacrifices demanded by his creative genius. He finds it difficult to accept the lack of recognition and wealth for his work compared to that gained by other of his contemporary inventors. He has spent many years trying to come to terms with these and other failures in his life.Hunt set out to spark interest in Tesla who's genius she believes to have been largely ignored. In this book she reveals Tesla to be a quirky and complex man whose extraordinary theories led some to infer that he was an alien. The Invention of Everything Else captures a time when the inventor was an artist who devoted the entirety of his life to his pursuits. Tesla mostly worked alone because he did not want corporate sponsorship to influence the development of his ideas. Hunt's fascination with Tesla and appreciation for his genius is evident in her detailed and lyrical portrayal of his life.This book was full of fascinating anecdotes about the life and times of Tesla. The plot jumps around a lot and is not predictable, giving the book a mysterious quality. It captures a unique period of history while also evidencing a lot of creativity in its science fiction elements. It seems that Hunt was inspired by Tesla's own vision of a world in which humans can fly and electricity is harvested from the sky and distributed for free. I would highly recommend this book to people interested in science. It is well written and captures the complexity of a life devoted to creative vision. It really makes you think about the individuals who have made our current lifestyle possible by taking inspiration from the natural environment and dreaming of any possibility.
jmchshannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'll admit that I didn't know very much about Tesla, his life or his inventions, other than the Tesla coil and even then I'm not 100 percent certain I know what that is. This lack of knowledge is what initially drew me to this book - I viewed it as a great opportunity to learn more about Tesla. To that end, this book did not disappoint. I did learn more about Tesla. I learned about everything that he invented, which is a quite lengthy list. I also learned that one of the great tragedies of Tesla's life is the fact that his accomplishments were huge but because he did not believe that one person could own or capitalize on those inventions, he signed away all rights to them. His madness towards the end of the novel, whether perceived or real is up to the reader to determine, is all the more poignant because of everything he signed away.The other half of the book deals with Louisa and her relationships with her father, with Tesla, with her father's best friend, and with the mysterious Arthur. Louisa is equal parts dreamer and pragmatist but above all the caretaker. When Arthur comes on the scene, we finally meet someone who is willing to take care of Louisa, which is something she well deserves. However, we first must address the issue of who exactly is Arthur and why Louisa doesn't remember him.This book is difficult to classify. It has elements of historical fiction, romance, science fiction, mystery and drama, but to label it as either one of those is impossible. It's an interesting mix of genres and definitely compelled me to keep reading. The symbolism of the pigeons cannot be ignored, especially with the sci-fi elements of time travel.I really did enjoy this book and the trip through post-WWII New York. I find it difficult to describe without giving away the entire plot. At times, it did get a little technical, especially when Tesla was describing some of his ideas. However, the questions about love and life remain no matter how technical the inventions. Both Louisa and Tesla have tragic elements, making the reader sympathize with and root for them.I would definitely recommend this book for anyone who is interested in science, science fiction or learning more about Tesla in a fictionalized setting. Thanks to Houghton Mifflin for the opportunity to review this book!
gaskella on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This Orange prize short-listed novel has had some mixed reviews. To be honest, it's a bit of a mixture itself, refusing to be easily genrified being: part fictionalised biography of mad physicist Nikola Tesla, part love story, part time-travel SF/fantasy, and part mainstream novel. Although it's not perfect, I loved all of it. When I was a teenager and at university, I read virtually nothing but science fiction and fantasy. I don't read many mainstream SF novels these days, but my love of the genre has matured into a particular liking for speculative fiction set in the recent past through to near future, (I'm thinking Ishiguru's Never let me go and The Time Traveller's Wife here - both books I adored reading). Although I'm a physics-based scientist by training, I find I am able to escape into these sorts of novels - ignoring the impossibilities and improbabilities and enjoying the ride without quibbling over the science. This escapism is only possible though when backed up by good research and quality writing, which luckily is in evidence here. Samantha Hunt has chosen well, for Nikola Tesla is the very epitomy of the mad scientist - a craftsman as a trained engineer, and a true innovator living mainly in his head, and full of quirks. The novel is set in 1943 during the last weeks of Tesla's life, when he was living in a hotel room in New York; broke and a recluse with pigeons as his only friends left. His mind is still full of plans for fantastic wireless electrical devices including a controversial death ray which just reinforced people's view of him as a mad scientist. Earlier, he was never able to really capitalise on his development of AC systems which overtook Edison's lesser DC ones. He let go of his ideas for radio too and Marconi leapt in to steal the limelight. As a counterpart to his story, we meet Louisa, a chambermaid at the hotel. Louisa's mother died in childbirth, but she is very close to her father, also an engineer and pigeon fancier. Her first encounter with Tesla is when he causes a power-cut in the hotel: "The door opens. To see God would have surprised Louisa less. From inside the room just down the hallway, power, electricity, whirling motion, and glowing bright as the sun spill out into the dark. The porter and manager each raise a hand to cover their eyes. And there in the aura of this wonder is man most unlike other men. A slender frame, terrific height, silver hair that reaches down his forehead in a peak. Louisa notices the dark hollows of his cheeks and even the fine length of his fingers on the doorjamb. He is lovely. Louisa catches her breath. Her mouth hangs open at the hinge. He is stunning, like Dracula grown old, like cold black branches covered with snow in the winter. "So we compare and contrast the two men through Louisa - her father and his friend Azor who thinks he's built a time-machine; and the scientist most likely get there first if only he wasn't 86. I got swept up in the romance of the whole thing and would heartily recommend it. But if you like your science more cut and dried - you'll miss out on the magic of this book.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
The only reason I kept reading even half of the book were the prior reviews indicating the author's extensive research into Tesla. That so-called research never evidenced itself... not in any depth at least. Tesla was a bigger than life inventor, and deserves more than a mere weakly developed storytelling of his life. Being as generous as I can, it was a trivial fictional tale of Tesla's time in New York.