The Invention Of Everything Else

By Bill Kohlhaase

Posted May 8, 2008 in Arts & Culture

Turn-of-the 20th-century inventor/physicist Nikolas Telsa has seen a revival lately. David Bowie played him in the 2006 magicians’ rivalry movie The Prestige. And there’s an electric car company named in his honor. Now there’s Samantha Hunt’s novel that takes the facts of Tesla’s life and imagines him in 1943, the year of his death. Even in his day, the father of radio waves, x-rays and alternating current was associated with the fantastic and Hunt’s story expounds on his mad-scientist reputation with plot twists and hints of time-travel, mind-reading and bringing the dead to life. Forgotten and living in a hotel, the 86-year-old inventor is befriended by a young chambermaid who shares his love of pigeons. She also has a father intent on going back in time to reunite with his late wife. Using multiple narrators, Hunt explores aging, imagination, devotion, success and bygone New York in this hallucinatory tale focused on a strange but brilliant old man. Capitalism takes its knocks. Unlike rival Thomas Edison, Tesla believed “invention is nothing a man can own.”  He championed wireless transmission of energy and generation of electricity from the very air. Where is he when we need him?

–Bill Kohlhaase

Houghton Mifflin, hardback, 257 pages, $24  


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