A great deal has been written by and about Nikola Tesla from
the time he arrived in America in 1884, through his life and continuing to the
present. The volume over time has depended on his level of fame at each period
in his life or in the more recent recognition of the importance of his
inventions and the intriguing aspects of his philosophy and personality.
At the height of his fame from 1890 to about 1910, the
volume was staggering. The Tesla Collection (sponsored by the Tesla
Memorial Society, Inc.) contains 4,500 pages of unduplicated material covering
the period from 1885 to 1920. As Tesla was a darling of the popular press, the
majority of items are from the ten New York daily and Sunday newspapers. But
also included is a wealth of serious and technical items from scientific and
professional publications. Nikola Tesla himself wrote at least 66 significant
articles and lectures between 1887 and 1934 plus the series of articles in 1919
that made up his autobiography My Inventions.
In trying to sort out a relatively brief list of titles from
my personal library of 100 or more “Tesla” books, I’ve tried to
organize them into categories from the earliest to the most recent entries. For
anyone wishing to write a biography, novel (or term paper) about Nikola Tesla
need only the following four titles to provide the basic “Tesla”
research. All have been published in many editions by many publishers in hard
and soft cover, and in the case of collections, by many editors. I’ve just
taken First Editions or best editions.
· My Inventions,
The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, Ben Johnson, Editor, 1982, Hart Brothers
(111 pages). The series of six articles published between February and October
1919 in the magazine Electrical Experimenter with a new, informative and
perceptive Introduction by Ben Johnson.
· Prodigal Genius,
The Life of Nikola Tesla, John J. O’Neill, 1944, Ives Washburn (326
pages). A mixture of fact and fiction with many acknowledgements but without
footnotes or bibliography to distinguish between the two. O’Neill, Science
Editor of the New York Herald Tribune, was also a believer in spiritualism and
psychic powers. He rushed the book into print and suggested, in a manner, that
his friend, Tesla, also had such powers. This book, cited by many later
writers, is primarily responsible for much of the mythology that surrounds
Tesla’s name today.
· The Complete Patents
of Nikola Tesla, Jim Glenn, Editor, 1994, Barnes & Noble Books (535
pages). Almost more than you need to know with helpful Introductions by Jim
· Tesla, Man Out Of
Time, Margaret Cheney, 1981, Prentice-Hall (320 pages). A carefully
researched work, both historically and technically, that caught the wave of new
interest in Tesla, the man. More than 200,000 copies in print and translated
into a dozen languages including Japanese and Korean. (Ms. Cheney is a member
of the Society Executive Board.)
To write a new biography of the whole life of Nikola Tesla,
one that will supplant existing works such as Margaret Cheney’s Man Out
Of Time, will require a prodigious amount of research and dedication. The
alternative is to address a situation in which Tesla played a pivotal role
– to create a dramatic “hook” upon which the author can find a
market for a new work that includes meeting the public thirst for more
information about this enigmatic, reclusive giant whose scientific
contributions are becoming more commonly known.
I have tried to make myself available to as many authors and
playwrights as seek my assistance. By doing so, I hope to correct some of the
errors that have been perpetuated by reliance on flawed research material.
Currently, I’m dealing with at least half dozen writers who are moving
forward on Tesla projects. Whether any new books or scripts from this effort
will actually see the light of day is yet to be determined.
A number of new books have reached the market in the past
year or two. Each relies on a “hook” to include a major and necessary
sketch of Tesla, his personality and his participation in the subject at hand.
While all include significant research on all aspects of the theme being
examined, some have occasionally fallen back on the “easy” Tesla
research described above. Among the most prominent are:
· Empires of Light,
Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race To Electrify The World, Jill Jonnes,
2003, Random House (416 pages). The “hook” is in the subtitle. Ms.
Jonnes treats Tesla very kindly and with great sympathy, acknowledging every
element of the Tesla AC system that won the day for Westinghouse. She also
deals directly with Edison’s obstructionism in defending his DC system.
Westinghouse is very favorably characterized as the (unusual) model of a moral
industrial tycoon. The book has been very favorably received and an option has
been let to a prominent screenwriter for a commercial movie version.
Capitalizing on the research for Empires, Ms. Jonnes is now writing a
history of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
· The Devil in the
White City, Erik Larson, 2003, Crown Publishers (447 pages). The
“hook” is the creation of the 1893 Columbian Exposition “White
City” from the swampy Jackson Park. Nearby, a serial killer built a
“World’s Fair Hotel” where scores of young women were tortured,
killed and cremated. Mr. Larson examines the intrigue of Chicago politics
surrounding the contracts for building the “White City” and the
detective work (albeit too late) for catching the killer. The contest between
General Electric and Westinghouse to light the Exposition is a part of the
story – and Westinghouse’s Tesla patent victory “helped change
the history of electricity.”
· Nikola Tesla, The
European Years, D. (Dan) Mrkich, 2003, Commoner’s Publishing, Ottawa
(143 pages). Most Tesla writing deals with the romance of his American years of
invention, success and frustration with only a superficial nod to his earlier
years usually gleaned from his autobiography. Mr. Mrkich has provided important
new research that fills in details that Tesla omitted (or may have chosen to
ignore) in later writings. He has visited every site (and every building, if
still standing) and every source of records where Tesla lived, was educated and
worked. In addition to sites in the former Yugoslavia, these locations include
Graz, Prague, Budapest, Paris and Strasbourg. Among the new information
revealed was Tesla’s work in Maribor, Slovenia, where he worked as a
common draftsman during the time he was avoiding University and his parents. I
consulted with Mr. Mrkich and had the honor of writing the Foreword to The
European Years. (Mr. Mrkich is a member of the Society Executive Board.)
· Nikola Tesla,
Tagebuch Aus Strassburg (Journal From Strasbourg), 2002, Nikola
Tesla Museum, Belgrade (251 pages, German and Serbian). The Journal covers
his correspondence with the Paris Edison Company (and an accounting of every
Mark and Franc spent) for the year in Strasbourg (1883-84) while Tesla repaired
the Edison lighting system, which had blown up in the presence of the Kaiser at
its dedication. The Journal shows that Tesla could be an effective manager as
well as a talented engineer. (The Society maintains a working relationship with
the Tesla Museum.)
Current, Richard Moran, 2002, Alfred A. Knopf (271 pages). The story of how
Thomas Edison’s contribution to the American criminal justice system was
born out of corporate greed. Edison’s attempt to make George Westinghouse
into America’s Dr. Guillotine is a damning contradiction of the folksy
image of this “Icon of Electricity.” While Tesla’s involvement
in this contest is minor, his technology is paramount. Recently, I listened to
a long NPR radio interview with Mr. Moran. When asked at the end of the
interview what other thoughts he had about his book, Mr. Moran launched into a
laudatory stream about his regard for Nikola Tesla. There is a contagion for
writers when confronted with the personality of Tesla.
· Harnessing the
Wheelwork of Nature, Thomas Valone, Editor, 2002, Adventures Unlimited
Press (338 pages). A collection of articles (many not published before) dealing
with Tesla’s Science of Energy, with a lengthy Introduction to correlate
Three additional books must be mentioned their current
timeliness and value.
· The Man Who Invented
the Twentieth Century, Nikola Tesla, Forgotten Genius of Electricity,
Robert Lomas, 1999, Headline Book Publishing, London (248 pages). The
“hook” is the approach to Tesla’s life and business decisions
through the “money trail” and is ingenious and almost unique among
the many other Tesla biographies. Dr. Lomas lectures in Engineering Management,
is a lifelong enthusiast for Tesla and teaches his student how NOT to run their
· Tesla, Master of
Lightning, Margaret Cheney & Robert Uth, 1999, Barnes & Noble Books
(184 pages). The Companion Book for the 90-minute PBS television biography
Master of Lightning and the best publication available for a
well-researched sketch of the complete Tesla. Illustrated with over 200 photos,
illustrations and drawings, all with authoritative dates and sources.
· Nikola Tesla, Guided
Weapons & Computer Technology, Leland I. Anderson, Editor, 1998, Twenty
First Century Books (241 pages). Tesla’s patented development of the first
radio remote controlled device, a boat, demonstrated to the public in 1899. The
patent included one of the fundamental building blocks of circuit and computer
design, the computer AND gate. (Mr. Anderson is a member of the Society
These are a few additional books and publications that
deserve to be mentioned for historical value or specific target audiences:
· Nikola Tesla,
Memorandum book on the occasion of his 80th anniversary, 1936,
Institute Nikola Tesla Foundation, Belgrade (520 pages). Birthday greetings
from every corner of the world and Proceedings of a Conference on Tesla
Technology accompanying the anniversary celebration. As an example, a portion
of the congratulations from Ernest Rutherford of Cambridge reads “I was
greatly impressed in my younger days by his experiments on high frequency
currents. I have often made use of the Tesla transformer as a method of
producing high voltages in my researches.”
· Lightning In His
Hand, The Life Story of Nikola Tesla, Inez Hunt and Wanetta W. Draper,
1964, Omni Publications (269 pages). A successful biography at the low point of
· Light and other High
Frequency Phenomena, Nikola Tesla, 1893, National Electric Light
Association (114 pages). An original copy of an historic Tesla lecture.
· Priority in the
Invention of Radio, Tesla vs. Marconi, Leland Anderson, 1980, Antique
Wireless Association (article, 9 pages). Chapter and verse citing Tesla
priority through lectures, patents, experiments and the findings of the U.S.
· Nikola Tesla,
Colorado Springs Notes 1899-1900, Scientific Commentaries by Aleksandar
Marincic, 1978, NOLIT / Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade (437 pages). Tesla’s
notes organized, interpreted and defined by Dr. Marincic, former Director of
· Nikola Tesla,
Correspondence with Relatives, 1993, Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrade (397
pages). English version, translated by Nicholas Kosanovich, 1995, Tesla
Memorial Society, Inc. (200 pages). This book is of particular interest to me
as over one-third of the correspondence is between Nikola Tesla and my father,
Nikola Trbojevich, also a prominent scientist and inventor.
· The Streams of Lenard
and Roentgen and Novel Apparatus for Their Production, Nikola Tesla:
Lecture before the New York Academy of Sciences – April 6, 1897, Leland I.
Anderson, Editor, 1994, Twenty First Century Books (123 pages). A lecture that
went far beyond the title with editorial discussion of departures by Mr.
· Nikola Tesla, A Spark
of Genius, Carol Dommermuth-Costa, 1994, Lerner Publications (144 pages).
Latest and best of a number of Tesla biographies for younger students.
· Tesla, Tad Wise,
1994, Turner Publishing (381 pages). “A biographical novel of the
world’s greatest inventor.”
· Wizard, The Life
and Times of Nikola Tesla, Marc J. Seifer, 1996, Birch Lane Press (542 pages).
In addition to a biographical narrative, Dr. Seifer, a noted handwriting
expert, examines the stress of relationships between Tesla and many of his
business contemporaries. I consulted with Dr. Seifer and had the honor to write
the Foreword to Wizard.
· Nikola Tesla On His
Work With Alternating Currents and Their Application To Wireless Telegraphy,
Telephony and Transmission of Power, Leland I. Anderson, Editor, Sun
Publishing (237 pages).
· Inventors And
Discoverers, Changing Our World, National Geographic Society, 1988,
National Geographic Book Service (320 pages). “Three Giants of Invention.
Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and Nikola Tesla, with some of the
inventions that changed our world”.
There are many other lesser books, novels and plays that
feature Nikola Tesla in one sense or another. I want to single out one last
item: a play successfully produced in Manhattan to excellent reviews. The play
was mounted with full cast, staging, theater and a firm price of admission.
(Some costs of the production were offset by a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan
Letters, Jeffrey Stanley, 1999, Samuel French (72 pages). A play in 2
William H. Terbo