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Prodigal Genius : The Life of Nikola Tesla―Inventor Extraordinary
John J. O'Neill, 1944
326 pages.
208-PG ... $10.95


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As the first full length life history written about Dr. Tesla after his death in 1943, this biography holds a special place in the Tesla canon. It is a penetrating study of the life and mind of the "scientific superman" who dedicated his life to the task of designing and improving devices for the service of mankind. The book is the result of personal interviews and covers all aspects of Tesla's work from the true wireless to the disk turbine.


EXCERPT:
FIRST PART -- LIGHT AND POWER

ONE
"SPECTACULAR" is a mild word for describing the strange experiment with life that comprises the story of Nikola Tesla, and "amazing" fails to do adequate justice to the results that burst from his experiences like an exploding rocket. It is the story of the dazzling scintillations of a superman who created a new world; it is a story that condemns woman as an anchor of the flesh which retards the development of man and limits his accomplishment--and, paradoxically, proves that even the most successful life, if it does not include a woman, is a dismal failure.

Even the gods of old, in the wildest imaginings of their worshipers, never undertook such gigantic tasks of world-wide dimension as those which Tesla attempted and accomplished. On the basis of his hopes, his dreams, and his achievements he rated the status of the Olympian gods, and the Greeks would have so enshrined him. Little is the wonder that so-called practical men, with their noses stuck in profit-and-loss statements, did not understand him and thought him strange. 

The light of human progress is not a dim glow that gradually becomes more luminous with time. The panorama of human evolution is illumined by sudden bursts of dazzling brilliance in intellectual accomplishments that throw their beams far ahead to give us a glimpse of the distant future, that we may more correctly guide our wavering steps today. Tesla, by virtue of the amazing discoveries and inventions which he showered on the world, becomes one of the most resplendent flashes that has ever brightened the scroll of human advancement.

Tesla created the modern era; he was unquestionably one of the world's greatest geniuses, but he leaves no offspring, no legatees of his brilliant mind, who might aid in administering that world; he created fortunes for multitudes of others but himself died penniless, spurning wealth that might be gained from his discoveries. Even as he walked among the teeming millions of New York he became a fabled individual who seemed to belong to the far-distant future or to have come to us from the mystical realm of the gods, for he seemed to be an admixture of a Jupiter or a Thor who hurled the shafts of lightning; an Ajax who defied the Jovian bolts; a Prometheus who transmuted energy into electricity to spread over the earth; an Aurora who would light the skies as a terrestrial electric lamp; a Mazda who created a sun in a tube; a Hercules who shook the earth with his mechanical vibrators; a Mercury who bridged the ambient realms of space with his wireless waves--and a Hermes who gave birth to an electrical soul in the earth that set it pulsating from pole to pole.

This spark of intellectual incandescence, in the form of a rare creative genius, shot like a meteor into the midst of human society in the latter decades of the past century; and he lived almost until today. His name became synonymous with magic in the intellectual, scientific, engineering and social worlds, and he was recognized as an inventor and discoverer of unrivaled greatness. He made the electric current his slave. At a time when electricity was considered almost an occult force, and was looked upon with terror-stricken awe and respect, Tesla penetrated deeply into its mysteries and performed so many marvelous feats with it that, to the world, he became a master magician with an unlimited repertoire of scientific legerdemain so spectacular that it made the accomplishments of most of the inventors of his day seem like the work of toy-tinkers.

Tesla was an inventor, but he was much more than a producer of new devices: he was a discoverer of new principles, opening many new empires of knowledge which even today have been only partly explored. In a single mighty burst of invention he created the world of power of today; he brought into being our electrical power era, the rock-bottom foundation on which the industrial system of the entire world is builded; he gave us our mass-production system, for without his motors and currents it could not exist; he created the race of robots, the electrical mechanical men that are replacing human labor; he gave us every essential of modern radio; he invented the radar forty years before its use in World War II; he gave us our modern neon and other forms of gaseous-tube lighting; he gave us our fluorescent lighting; he gave us the high-frequency currents which are performing their electronic wonders throughout the industrial and medical worlds; he gave us remote control by wireless; he helped give us World War II, much against his will--for the misuse of his superpower system and his robot controls in industry made it possible for politicians to have available a tremendous surplus of power, production facilities, labor and materials, with which to indulge in the most frightful devastating war that the maniacal mind could conceive. And these discoveries are merely the inventions made by the master mind of Tesla which have thus far been utilized--scores of others remain still unused.

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