Year Published: September 10, 2013
How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World
Move over, Thomas Edison! Nikola Tesla takes the spotlight in a biography of the man who pioneered modern electrical engineering — and changed the course of history.
When a Serbian boy named Nikola Tesla was three, he stroked his cat and was enchanted by the electrical sparks. By the time he was a teenager, he had made a vow: Someday I will turn the power of Niagara Falls into electricity. Here is the story of the ambitious young man who brought life-changing ideas to America, despite the obstructive efforts of his hero-turned-rival, Thomas Edison. From using alternating current to light up the Chicago World’s Fair to harnessing Niagara to electrify New York City and beyond, Nikola Tesla was a revolutionary ahead of his time. Remote controls, fluorescent lights, X-rays, speedometers, cell phones, even the radio — all resulted from Nikola Tesla’s inventions.
Established biographer Elizabeth Rusch sheds light on this extraordinary figure, while fine artist Oliver Dominguez brings his life and inventions to vivid color.
Illustrations by Oliver Dominguez
~ Winner Gelett Burgess Award for Biography ~
~ CBC/Bank Street College Best Book of the Year, 2014 ~
~ AAAS Best Book of the Year, 2014 ~
~ NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book ~
~ Winner Oregon Spirit Award, 2014 ~
~ Oregon Book Award finalist, 2015 ~
~ Towner Award nominee (Washington State's children's choice) ~
~ Young Hoosiers nominee (Indiana's children's choice) ~
~ Volunteer State Book Award nominee (Tennessee's children's choice)~
"Nikola Tesla’s curiosity and passion for discovery are on full display in this picture-book biography," KIRKUS
From the time he was a small boy, Serbian-born inventor Nikola Tesla was fascinated by electricity. It wasn’t long before he began to notice everything about this power and ways to make it more effective. As he traveled the world, working, learning and inventing, he was constantly looking for a way to develop electricity using alternating current, a method he believed would be safer and cheaper than the direct current that was in use. When he came to the United States, he sought the help of Thomas Edison, a proponent of direct current, and the two inventors eventually found themselves rivals after initial collaboration. Despite powerful opposition, Tesla’s ideas ultimately prevailed. This is a lively introduction to the life of an important figure in technology, someone whose ideas are still at the center of today’s world. Rusch highlights key episodes in Tesla’s creative life that will resonate with young readers. Dominguez’s graphite, gouache, ink and acrylic paintings capture both the inventor’s focus and his exuberance, ably complementing the narrative. The backmatter, with attention to Tesla as visionary, his rivalry with Edison and additional discussion about his work with electricity, answers questions without interrupting the story flow.
An engaging volume that will encourage both budding scientists and anyone intrigued by the creative process.
THE HORN BOOK
Nikola Tesla—visionary, inventor, electrical engineer—is often overshadowed in textbooks by scientists such as Edison and Marconi (who, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, falsely received credit for inventing the radio Tesla designed). Here, in the only biography about him published for young readers, Tesla partially receives his due. Tesla’s early interest in electricity and manipulating its power can be documented, but at times unwarranted predestination creeps into the account (“Someday, I will turn the power of Niagara Falls into electricity”). Still, readers meet an individual who knows what he wants to accomplish (an alternating current generator) but struggles to turn that idea into a tangible product. Stylized illustrations surround Tesla with scientific instruments while utility poles and wires crowd the New York City streets, symbolizing the country’s emotional investment in technology at the turn of the twentieth century (although the time is not specified in the text). The illustrations also show the drama of the man: formally dressed, showcasing his ideas at the Chicago World’s Fair; harnessing the hydroelectric power of Niagara Falls with a giant generator; and basking in the lights of Broadway after turning them on. The back matter is particularly strong, including an essay covering Tesla’s other ideas and accomplishments; diagrams and notes that explain his scientific processes; a biographical piece about Edison, emphasizing his infamous mean streak; documentation; a bibliography; and a sophisticated recommended reading list. betty carter
Thomas Edison’s name may be better known, but as the man who made alternating current a practical means of delivering electrical power, Tesla has had a far greater influence on our world. Rusch highlights the Serbian-born inventor’s lifelong fascination with electricity as she traces his training, bitter rivalry with Edison (whose attempts to market direct current as the “safer” choice ultimately failed), and the spectacular triumph wiring the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Along with lucid explanations of AC’s advantages over DC, Rusch closes with an analysis of Tesla’s significance, plus simplified descriptions of his best-known demonstrations and devices—prefaced by a cogent, strongly worded warning about fiddling with electrical current. There’s also a bountiful resource list. Less illuminating is the graphite and gouache art, which has lightning striking low spots rather than higher ones and shows Tesla arriving in New York as the Brooklyn Bridge was being built (he actually arrived a year after it opened). Still, this may be the first time readers have met Tesla, and this portrait gives them a solid appreciation for his talents and achievements. — John Peters
SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
Although Edison’s inventions are celebrated in many children’s books, his rival, Nikola Tesla, receives little attention. Rusch’s picture-book biography starts to correct that imbalance. From childhood experiments through college studies, Tesla exhibited an interest in electricity. By the time he designed his alternating current (AC) system, he had moved from Eastern Europe to Paris but could find no investors to fund his projects. Convinced that Edison would recognize AC’s value, Tesla came to America. Rather than welcome him, Edison set out to discredit AC because it threatened the direct current (DC) power stations he owned. Tesla’s breakthrough came when Westinghouse, which used his inventions, won the bid to supply electricity to the Chicago World’s Fair. That success was followed by Tesla’s achievements in harnessing power generated by Niagara Falls to supply electricity for New York cities. Dramatic incidents such as Tesla’s lighting a bulb with his hand are explained in scientific notes at the end. Diagrams and text clarify how AC and DC work, and Rusch stresses the dangers of experimenting with electricity. She provides source notes for quotations and offers detailed explanations of the Tesla-Edison rivalry and of other Tesla inventions. Dominguez’s gouache and acrylic illustrations include impressive panoramas of the World’s Fair and Niagara Falls, but the people lack animation. A more serious problem is the failure to provide historical context. There are no dates in the text itself, and there is no time line. Despite this oversight, most libraries should consider purchasing the book for its clear biographical details reinforced by scientific explanations. Students might compare Rusch’s presentation with one or more books about Edison. –Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State University, Mankato
Nikola Tesla is a former and much beloved resident of my city. Until a year or so ago, in fact, my city boasted a Tesla Historical Museum dedicated to honoring the man who pioneered modern electrical engineering. Tesla changed not only the course of local history, though, he rivaled Thomas Edison in his contributions to lighting up our world at large. This intriguing book tells of Tesla's seemingly magical powers that lit up not only the Chicago World's Fair and New York City of yesteryear, but that impact modern inventions used today.