Home Page News About TMS Events Publications Tesla Information Contact TMS Links

The Tesla Memorial Society
21 Maddaket, Southwyck Village
Scotch Plains, New Jersey 07076
William H. Terbo
Executive Secretary
  Maria Godfors
Nikola Tesla: 1856 - 1943

Books and Writings about Nikola Tesla

Commentary by William H. Terbo, Executive Secretary


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 Glenn.

· 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.)

· Executioner’s 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 the collection.

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 business affairs.

· 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 executive Board.)

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 Tesla’s fame.

· 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. Supreme Court.

· 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 the Museum.

· 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. Anderson.

· 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 Foundation.)

· Tesla’s Letters, Jeffrey Stanley, 1999, Samuel French (72 pages). A play in 2 acts.

William H. Terbo
Executive Secretary


TMSuf 2003 edited 6 Jan 2005

Home Page | News | About TMS | Events | Videos and Publications
Tesla Information | Contact Us | Links

This document maintained by Sica Productions.
Material Copyright © 2000 - 2005 Tesla Memorial Society, Inc.