Martyn Bedford

Tesla’s Tale

The Invention of Everything Else


Harvill Secker 358pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

It’s easy to see why a novelist might be attracted to an inventor – they share an urge to create, along with a compulsion to explore life’s mysteries. Whether Samantha Hunt found such a kindred spirit in Nikola Tesla isn’t clear, but her fascination with this unsung scientific genius is apparent in her retelling, or reinvention, of his life. It is an ambitious conflation of fact and fiction that pays fitting, if warts-and-all, tribute to Tesla (1856-1943), a Croatian-born Serb who pioneered dozens of advances in electricity, radar and telecommunications. He was ahead of his time, scientifically, but his purist approach to the ‘art’ of invention put him at odds with the prevailing mores of capitalism and celebrity in his adoptive America. Profit didn’t interest Tesla, other than as a source of funds for his work, nor was he driven by an egotistical desire for acclaim. To him, the point of invention wasn’t ‘to make things that people want to buy’ but, rather, ‘to improve people’s lives’. Technological innovation ought to glorify science, not the scientist. That was Tesla’s ethos. And much good it did him: he was under-appreciated at the time and neglected by posterity. It didn’t help that he was better at coming up with ideas than applying for patents. Only when it was too late, as a delusional eccentric living out his last days in impoverished obscurity, did Tesla come to resent the likes of Marconi and Edison for claiming the fame, fortune and prizes that were rightly his.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,