Monthly Archives: April 2014

Double Review ~ Two About Tesla

Cover via Goodreads

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson

Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America’s first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft.

Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. Drawing on original documents from Tesla’s private and public life, Carlson shows how he was an “idealist” inventor who sought the perfect experimental realization of a great idea or principle, and who skillfully sold his inventions to the public through mythmaking and illusion. (via Goodreads)

Last week, I finished my mini block of Tesla. Since November of last year I’ve read two fiction books and two-ish non-fiction books. The two fictional characterization were very strongly based on the mythology of Tesla, the mad scientist and the underdog geek hero. W. Bernard Carlson’s biography offers a different perspective, a more down-to-earth one.

“In writing about Tesla, one must navigate between unfair criticism and excessive enthusiasm.”

Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age doesn’t cover the entirety of Tesla’s life or every aspect of it. Instead, Carlson mainly covers Tesla’s early life through 1905. The focus is on how Tesla invented and what might have influenced his philosophies, while incidentally debunking some of the Tesla myths. (For example: Tesla *would* build from what he designed in his mind, but the machines were not always perfect. The designs were only as good as Tesla’s understanding of the underlying system, which was often very, very good, but not always complete.)

The book is much more technical than I expected, but I was okay with that.  I didn’t need to understand every nitty-gritty electrical engineering detail. Rather than a recitation of events, Tesla’s innovations are given cultural and economic context. Neither Tesla nor Edison invented in a void. Like it or not, money was an issue especially in the case of disruptive innovations. In the case of DC and AC power, many DC systems were already in place. AC power might have had long term advantages, but the cost of refitting the existing systems was deemed too high during the economic downturn of the late 1800s. Also, Tesla seems to have suffered from an overage of ideas as he moved from the ideals in his imagination to the potential technologies. Often these ideas didn’t translate into products that would give the public or the money-men reason to back Tesla.

This was PaleoFuture’s first “book club” book and Dr. Carlson was invited to answer questions about the book and his research into Tesla. The book itself has over a 100 pages of notes and references; Carlson is no slouch when it comes to research and it’s always fun to hear from an author who is obviously excited about his subject. I really enjoyed this look at Tesla. It’s very easy to say, “The guy was a nutty genius!” or “Poor Tesla, he was totally screwed over by everyone.” The truth is always more subtle and complex.

Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: May 7th 2013
Genre: Non-fiction
Why did I choose to read this book? Curious about Nikola Tesla

And speaking complexity, or rather the lack of it:
Cover via Goodreads

Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century by Sean Patrick

If you want to learn about one of history’s most fascinating minds and uncover some of his secrets of imagination—secrets that enabled him to invent machines light years ahead of his time and literally bring light to the world—then you want to read this book.
Imagination amplifies and colors every other element of genius, and unlocks our potential for understanding and ability.

It’s no coincidence that geniuses not only dare to dream of the impossible for their work, but do the same for their lives. They’re audacious enough to think that they’re not just ordinary players.

Few stories better illustrate this better than the life of the father of the modern world, a man of legendary imaginative power and wonder: Nikola Tesla.

In this book, you’ll be taken on a whirlwind journey through Tesla’s life and work, and not only learn about the successes and mistakes of one of history’s greatest inventors, but also how to look at the world in a different, more imaginative way.

Read this book now and learn lessons from Nikola Tesla on why imagination is so vital to awakening your inner genius, and insights into the real “secret” to creativity, as explained by people like Jobs, Picasso, Dali, and Twain. (via Goodreads)

 

I picked this up as an Amazon freebie. While I don’t disagree with some of the self-improvement notions in this book, it somewhat annoying that Patrick uses a pretty stock bio of Tesla as a commercial for his longer work on genius. Yes, obviously, Tesla was imaginative and displayed perseverance, but that is the really simplistic, mythologized view of the man.

Publisher: Oculus Publishers
Publication date: April 9th 2013

Spring Into Horror Read-a-Thon

The Spring into Horror Read-a-Thon is almost here! It’s coming to put some scare in your Spring on Monday, April 28 at 12:00am CST through Sunday, May 4 at 11:59pm CST (adjust times according to your time zone). Now don’t let the word ‘horror’ scare you away. You only have to read one scary book during the duration of the read-a-thon.

Possible Reads

The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six Alarums
  • The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six edited by Ellen Datlow (an ARC)
  • Abra-Cadaver by Matt Drabble (from my Indie pile) DNF – Phooey!
  • Alarums by Richard Laymon or The Haunt by J.N. Williamson (from my TBR pile)
  • Short Story: “The Man in the Woods” by Shirley Jackson (a previously unpublished story that’s currently available in The New Yorker)
  • Short Story: “The Barnum Museum” by Steven Millhauser for Deal Me In

No specific goal. Just aiming to get some reading done. 🙂

(‘Course, now that I’ve listed these I totally want to read everything else!)

Updates

Sunday
Book: Pandemonium, pg. 17-25, Best Horror of the Year, 134-157, “The Man in the Woods” ~10
# Pages Read: 43
# Pages Read Total: 359

Saturday
Book: A Feast for Crows, pg. 255-279, “The Barnum Museum”, pg. 73-91
# Pages Read: 44
# Pages Read Total: 316

Friday
Book: Abracadanger, pg. 1-138, Pandemonium: Further Explorations into the World of Clive Barker, pg. 4-16
# Pages Read: 151
# Pages Read Total: 272

Thursday
Book: Best Horror of the Year, pg. 76-133
# Pages Read: 58
# Pages Read Total: 121
Notes: More of a reading-oriented day, mostly because my body was being annoying. While The Best Horror of the Year has provided some good stories, I find anthologies slow-going. I pepped up my stack with a visit to Open Library. Reading a Choose Your Own Adventure, which is a lot of fun.

Wednesday
Book: Best Horror of the Year, pg. 50-75
# Pages Read: 26
# Pages Read Total: 63
Notes: Had a disjointed “meh” kind of day.

Tuesday
Book: Alarums, pg. 1-10
# Pages Read: 10
# Pages Read Total: 37
Notes: After kicking ass in most things (though not reading) on Monday, I totally lost control of Tuesday. I blame screwing around with the new Firefox for way too long.

Monday
Book: Abra-Cadaver, 5%, Magic and Mystery by Joseph Dunninger and Harry Houdini, pg. 52-61
# Pages Read: 27
# Pages Read Total: 27
Notes: Abra-Cadaver was just not doing it for me. Since today is Dunninger’s birthday, I read a little of Magic and Mystery.

Deal Me In, Week 17 ~ “Eisenheim the Illusionist”

20140105-160356

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“Eisenheim the Illusionist” by Steven Millhauser

Card picked: Ten of Diamonds

From: The Barnum Museum

Review: (Or, rather, some history of me being a procrastinator.)

2006 was a good year for magician movies. Two premiered that year: The Prestige featuring a whole host of post-Batman Begins stars including Christian Bale, Michael Caine, and Christopher Nolan (directing), and The Illusionist with the ever low-key Edward Nortan and the incomparable Paul Giamatti. I saw both in the theater well before magic became a full-blown research project/hobby. I like them both, but The Illusionist has become my absolute favorite.* It’s a smaller, more real story. Many of its narrative beats harken back to the magician “biographies” I’ve read, fanciful tales of mysterious mentors met on a journey.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Both are based on written works and I love reading movie source materials. I managed to nab a copy of The Prestige by Christopher Priest fairly easily from PaperbackSwap, but Millhauser is more…literary. With fewer copies available on the secondary market. I hemmed and hawed and finally purchased The Barnum Museum on December 21, 2011, presumably with birthday money. So eager was I to read “Eisenheim the Illusionist” that I didn’t get to it until June of 2012! (A few months later Eric would suggest that I might write a novel about an early 20th century magician. There’s been no looking back.) I read another of the stories in the collection and, well, wasn’t as impressed.

For Deal Me In, I figured I’d finally finish reading The Barnum Museum (a mere three years after I purchased it), but I also wanted to give “Eisenheim” a reread. I enjoyed it well enough when I first read it, but (according to the notice of it) I found it tiring. “Eisenheim the Illusionist” is less visual than the other Millhauser stories I’ve read. He includes the names of many classic tricks and alludes to a plethora of magic devices, but doesn’t go out of his way to describe them. I assume this is what I found tiring previously. On a reread, after a year and a half of becoming familiar with the jargon, I weirdly found the details exhilarating. Millhauser definitely knows some magic history and has infused the story with it. This story also feels more rounded and satisfying than the others of his I’ve read, even though it is much more narratively loose than the movie. As I often say when discussing books to movies, both are good in their own way.

* Depending on the day of the week, The Prestige and last year’s Now You See Me vie for second place. Fourth is occupied by a rather fictitious Houdini pic called Death Defying Acts (2007). In fifth place is The Brothers Bloom (2008), which doesn’t feature a magician, but has a plot so filled with cons and misdirections that it’s more of a magic story than many of the tales in the Copperfield anthologies I’ve been reading. It also features voice over by Ricky Jay, which makes it a magical half-cousin at least. Jay was also an advisor on The Prestige and The Illusionist, appearing in the former.

Thoughtful Thursday: Reading a Series from Start to Finish

ThoughtfulThursday
Hosted by Pamela @ Reading is Fun Again

This Thursday’s question:

Assuming that you are late to the party with a book series (and the entire series is completed) and you want to read every piece of text within a series’ universe that you can get your hands on, in what order to you read the books, short stories, and novellas within the universe? Do you read the books first and then the short stories and novellas if you want more? Do you read the books, short stories, and novellas in order (either publication or chronological)? Do you read them in some other order?

Well, we’ve already established that I’m pretty crap at reading series. 😉 Honestly, I’m a little befuddled by the trend of having short stories and novellas as part of a series, although I suppose I shouldn’t be. I’ve been reading within certain fandoms (Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who etc.) for most of my reading life. In the case of those “series,” story chronology has never seemed very important, probably because there are many writers involved in creating the world instead of just one. The Song of Ice and Fire read-through included a couple of Martin’s shorter works set within Westeros, but I sort of ignored them even though I think I have one of the stories around here in a Legends anthology. I suppose, I’d probably read in order of publication. As a writer, I know how hard it is to keep author knowledge out of plot, and I’d probably count on some “insider” knowledge being helpful if I was reading a prequel that was written after several books in a series. (Speaking of fandoms, a question that keeps popping up among friends who have children is, what order do you show your kids the Star Wars films? I can’t really imagine seeing those movies in the plot chronology order.)

Write On Review-a-Thon 3

Write On Review-a-Thon

The Write On review-a-thon is a monthly event created and hosted by Brianna at The Book Vixen. It’s 2 days dedicated to getting reviews done, whether you have one review to write or 30+. This edition of the review-a-thon takes place all day Friday, April 25th and Saturday, April 26th. Let’s get those reviews done!

Once again, I’m not too behind, but I wouldn’t mind getting ahead. Here’s the slate:

  1. Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age by W. Bernard Carlson (A double review with Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century by Sean Patrick)
  2. Glorious by Jeff Guinn (Alas, a DNF, but I’m still going to write it up.)
  3. Deal Me In post for “Eisenheim the Illusionist”
  4. Set up for A Feast of Crows and The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Six

Plus got my Spring into Horror post drafted!

Review ~ The Silver Linings Playbook

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick

Cover via Goodreads

An enchanting first novel about love, madness, and Kenny G.

During the years he spends in a neural health facility, Pat Peoples formulates a theory about silver linings: he believes his life is a movie produced by God, his mission is to become physically fit and emotionally supportive, and his happy ending will be the return of his estranged wife, Nikki. When Pat goes to live with his parents, everything seems changed: no one will talk to him about Nikki; his old friends are saddled with families; the Philadelphia Eagles keep losing, making his father moody; and his new therapist seems to be recommending adultery as a form of therapy.

When Pat meets the tragically widowed and clinically depressed Tiffany, she offers to act as a liaison between him and his wife, if only he will give up watching football, agree to perform in this year’s Dance Away Depression competition, and promise not to tell anyone about their “contract.” All the while, Pat keeps searching for his silver lining. In this brilliantly written debut novel, Matthew Quick takes us inside Pat’s mind, deftly showing us the world from his distorted yet endearing perspective. The result is a touching and funny story that helps us look at both depression and love in a wonderfully refreshing way. (via Goodreads)

I watched the movie based on this book back around when the movie was nominated for several Oscars. The movie is pretty quirky and I wondered what the book was like, especially since the movie culminates with a dance routine. I’m always interested in how action scenes of every kind are written.

This book is equally as quirky, though the story is a little different. It’s, well, less cinematic. The conflicts that make for a good movie aren’t as necessary in a novel, especially when the novel is a first person narrative about a man coming to terms with his past, both his actions and the actions of others. There is also perhaps more leeway in written fiction for coincidences, especially with the main character is as befuddled by them as the audience might be. I didn’t realize this was Matthew Quick’s debut. In The Silver Linings Playbook, he manages to write about some weighty subjects with a very light hand. (David O. Russell did a really good job with the screenplay as well. He was beat out for the adapted screenplay Oscar by Chris Terrio’s Argo. I have to believe that Russell was a close second.)

So, how does one write a dance scene? In the book, the dance is not as much of a climactic moment, so there is a certain vagueness to the actions. Funnily enough, the opposite is true of the dance training. Since the character of Pat has decided his life is a movie, he gives us a “montage” of his training, instead of the more separate scenes that exist in the movie. The differences between the book and movie are pretty interesting.

Publisher: First published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 2008
Genre: Literary
Why did I choose to read this book? Curiosity

It’s Monday! What am I Reading? (4/21/14)

31Hosted by Sheila at Book Journey

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between! This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from!

Happy Monday Everyone!

Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th CenturyReading

This week’s reading looks a lot like last week’s reading: Jeff Guinn’s Glorious (an ARC) and Briar Rose by Jane Yolen (for the Once Upon a Time Challenge). I finished one Tesla book and am now reading Sean Patrick’s Nikola Tesla: Imagination and the Man That Invented the 20th Century, which seems to be more about a theory of genius than about Mr. Telsa. Mainly reading it because it was a freebie and I figured it would round out my bunch of Tesla books.

Arrivals

None! But I do have a couple requests pending.

On the Blog / Bloggish Things

Busy week, and I’m not even doing Dewey’s! (Seriously, I’m tempted, but I already have a bunch of stuff going on including an entire afternoon and evening of ultimate frisbee on Saturday.)

Work

Physic read-through.