Two new exhibits about Albert Einstein on Google Cultural Institute


Two new, expertly written and illustrated exhibits about Albert Einstein are now available for free on Google Cultural Institute. These archives feature information from the Einstein Papers Project and the Hebrew University archives.

Einstein’s Trip to the Far East and Palestine

In late 1922 and early 1923, Albert Einstein embarked on a five-and-a-half-month trip to the Far East, Palestine, and Spain. In September 1921, Einstein had been invited by the progressive Japanese journal Kaizo to embark on a lecture tour of Japan.   The tour would include a scientific lecture series to be delivered in Tokyo, and six popular lectures to be delivered in several other Japanese cities. An honorarium of 2,000 pounds sterling was offered and accepted.

Einstein’s motivation for accepting the invitation to Japan was threefold: to fulfil his long-term desire to visit the Far East, to enjoy two long sea voyages “far from the madding crowds” and to escape from Berlin for several months in the wake of the recent assassination of Germany’s Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, who had belonged to Einstein’s circle of friends. Rathenau had been gunned down by anti-Semitic right-wing extremists in June 1922 and there was reason to believe that Einstein’s life was also at risk.

Credit: Einstein’s Trip to the Far East and Palestine

Albert Einstein German, Swiss and American?

In a letter to his superiors, the German ambassador, Constantin von Neurath, quotes from a Copenhagen newspaper: „Although a Swiss subject by birth and supposedly of Jewish origin, Einstein’s work is nevertheless an integral part of German research“.

Von Neurath uses this flawed statement with good reason: The  Swiss Jew whom he would rather disregard, unfortunately proves to be one of the few “Germans” welcome abroad.

On April 26, 1920, for example, Albert Einstein was nominated member of the  Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.

The more appreciated Einstein becomes abroad, the greater Germany’s desire to claim him as one of their own.

Credit: Albert Einstein German, Swiss and American?

On the occasion of these exhibits, Diana K. Buchwald of the Einstein Papers Project at California Institute of Technology said, “The Einstein cultural exhibit gives us a splendid glimpse into rare documents and images that tell not only the story of Einstein’s extraordinary voyage to publicize relativity in Japan in 1922, and to lay the cornerstone of the Hebrew University in Palestine in 1923, but also the dramatic trajectory of his entire life, illustrated by his colorful passports that bear testimony to the vagaries of his personal life.”

Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, Former President, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Chair of the Albert Einstein Archives echoed her Buchwald’s enthusiasm noting, “The cooperation between the Google Cultural Institute, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Einstein Papers Project in Caltech has produced two exhibitions exploring two specific topics on Einstein’s life and personality. Thus, Google has provided an arena, accessible to all mankind, which allows the Hebrew University to share with the general public the highlights of one of its most important cultural assets–the Albert Einstein Archives, which shed light on Einstein’s scientific work, public activities and personal life.

Learn more about Princeton University Press’s Einstein-related books, including the print editions of the Einstein Papers Project, here.



Gillen D’Arcy Wood discusses his new book TAMBORA: The Eruption That Changed the World

Please enjoy Gillen D’Arcy Wood discussing his new book TAMBORA: The Eruption That Changed the World, due out from Princeton University Press in May.

W. Patrick McCray Win the 2012 Eugene E. Emme Award

W. Patrick McCray - The Visioneers: How a Group of Elite Scientists Pursued Space Colonies, Nanotechnologies, and a Limitless Future
Winner of the 2012 Eugene E. Emme Award for Astronautical Literature, American Astronautical Society

The annual Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Awards, named for NASA’s first Historian, recognize outstanding books which advance public understanding of astronautics through originality, scholarship and readability. For more information about the AAS Emme Award, click here. 1969, Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill began looking outward to space colonies as the new frontier for humanity’s expansion. A decade later, Eric Drexler, an MIT-trained engineer, turned his attention to the molecular world as the place where society’s future needs could be met using self-replicating nanoscale machines. These modern utopians predicted that their technologies could transform society as humans mastered the ability to create new worlds, undertook atomic-scale engineering, and, if truly successful, overcame their own biological limits. The Visioneers tells the story of how these scientists and the communities they fostered imagined, designed, and popularized speculative technologies such as space colonies and nanotechnologies.

Patrick McCray traces how these visioneers blended countercultural ideals with hard science, entrepreneurship, libertarianism, and unbridled optimism about the future. He shows how they built networks that communicated their ideas to writers, politicians, and corporate leaders. But the visioneers were not immune to failure–or to the lures of profit, celebrity, and hype. O’Neill and Drexler faced difficulty funding their work and overcoming colleagues’ skepticism, and saw their ideas co-opted and transformed by Timothy Leary, the scriptwriters of Star Trek, and many others. Ultimately, both men struggled to overcome stigma and ostracism as they tried to unshackle their visioneering from pejorative labels like “fringe” and “pseudoscience.”

The Visioneers provides a balanced look at the successes and pitfalls they encountered. The book exposes the dangers of promotion–oversimplification, misuse, and misunderstanding–that can plague exploratory science. But above all, it highlights the importance of radical new ideas that inspire us to support cutting-edge research into tomorrow’s technologies.

W. Patrick McCray is professor of history at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is the author of Keep Watching the Skies!: The Story of Operation Moonwatch and the Dawn of the Space Age (Princeton) and Giant Telescopes: Astronomical Ambition and the Promise of Technology.

Glen Van Brummelen is Shortlisted for 2013 BSHM Nuemann Book Prize

Glen Van Brummelen - Heavenly Mathematics: The Forgotten Art of Spherical Trigonometry
Shortlisted for the 2013 BSHM Neumann Book Prize, British Society for the History of Mathematics

The British Society for the History of Mathematics (BSHM) has announced the winner of the 2013 Neumann Prize. This prize, named after Oxford mathematician and past BSHM President Dr. Peter Neumann, OBE, is awarded every two years for the best mathematics book containing historical material and aimed at a non-specialist readership.

To read more about the BSHM and this award, click here.

Heavenly MathematicsSpherical trigonometry was at the heart of astronomy and ocean-going navigation for two millennia. The discipline was a mainstay of mathematics education for centuries, and it was a standard subject in high schools until the 1950s. Today, however, it is rarely taught. Heavenly Mathematics traces the rich history of this forgotten art, revealing how the cultures of classical Greece, medieval Islam, and the modern West used spherical trigonometry to chart the heavens and the Earth. Glen Van Brummelen explores this exquisite branch of mathematics and its role in ancient astronomy, geography, and cartography; Islamic religious rituals; celestial navigation; polyhedra; stereographic projection; and more. He conveys the sheer beauty of spherical trigonometry, providing readers with a new appreciation for its elegant proofs and often surprising conclusions.

Heavenly Mathematics is illustrated throughout with stunning historical images and informative drawings and diagrams that have been used to teach the subject in the past. This unique compendium also features easy-to-use appendixes as well as exercises at the end of each chapter that originally appeared in textbooks from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries.

Glen Van Brummelen is coordinator of mathematics and the physical sciences at Quest University Canada and president of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics. His books include The Mathematics of the Heavens and the Earth: The Early History of Trigonometry (Princeton) and Mathematics and the Historian’s Craft.

Editor Speaks Out In Defense Of Undiluted Hocus-Pocus

Undiluted Hocus PocusI bet Martin Gardner, author of Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, never imagined that his autobiography would stir up so much controversy. Since Gardner unfortunately passed away after the completion of his book but before it was officially released, some people have been saying that he did not actually write it and that it was pieced together by his friends and published under his name.

To set the record straight, Vickie Kearn, the Mathematics Editor here at Princeton University Press who worked closely with Gardner during the writing and editing process of this book, is speaking out about her experience with Gardner to prove once and for all that he is the author of Undiluted Hocus-Pocus. The full article can be found here at Wild About Math.

Join MoMath in New York City on October 26 for a celebration of Martin Gardner

Undiluted Hocus PocusMartin Gardner, an acclaimed popular mathematics and science writer and author of Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, would have had his 99th birthday this month. In honor of this special occasion, the mathematical community is putting together a number of birthday celebrations.

MoMath joins the fun on October 26th from 10:00 – 5:00 with a Celebration of the Mind.

At this family-friendly event, math fans of all ages will enjoy some close-up magic tricks, explore favorite Gardner puzzles, and make their own hexaflexagon to take home (how many people can say they have their own hexaflexagon?!). As an added challenge, try to spot the two exhibits that Gardner asked Museum directors to include in MoMath.

Later that evening, MoMath will welcome Martin Gardner’s son James Gardner and a panel of experts for a discussion:

Event: Who is Martin Gardner? A Conversation with Friends, Colleagues, and Family
Date and Time: Saturday, October 26, 6:30 pm
What is it? A panel of people who knew Martin Gardner well will share their favorite stories about him and reveal just how important his contributions have been to mathematics and to math lovers around the world. Ask questions, talk with the presenters, and share your own memories and stories.
Who is participating? James Gardner (University of Oklahoma, Martin Gardner’s son)
John Conway (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University)
Mark Setteducati (President, Gathering 4 Gardner)
Neil Sloane (The OEIS Foundation and Rutgers University)
Colm Mulcahy (Spelman College and Author of Mathematical Card Magic: Fifty-Two New Effects)
Location: National Museum of Mathematics
11 East 26th Street, New York, NY 10010
Contact: (212) 542-0566 |

Space will fill up for this event, so please pre-register here:

There are many Celebration of Mind events taking place around the world. Check out the map ( to find events close to you.

Come and celebrate the joy of math!

Martin Gardner Celebration At Princeton

Martin GardnerMartin Gardner, an acclaimed popular mathematics and science writer and author of Undiluted Hocus-Pocus: The Autobiography of Martin Gardner, would have had his 99th birthday this month. In honor of this special occasion, the mathematical community is putting together a number of events celebrating this Gardner.

At Princeton University on October 25th from 6:30 – 8:30 PM in the Friend Center, Room 101, there is a free public lecture by Tadashi Tokieda on toy Models. He will share with you some unique toys he has made and collected, and show you the mathematics and physics behind them. Following the lecture, a panel of people who knew Martin Gardner well will share their favorite stories about him. You will have time to ask questions and talk with the presenters and share your memories as well.

Mark Setteducati (President, Gathering 4 Gardner) Panel Moderator
James Gardner (University of Oklahoma, Martin Gardner’s son)
John Conway (Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Princeton University)
Colm Mulcahy (Spelman College and Author of Mathematical Card Magic: Fifty-Two New Effects)

There are many Celebration of Mind events taking place around the world. Check out the map ( and you can find event close to you.

Come and celebrate the joy of math!

The Alzheimer Enigma in an Ageing World

Margaret LockA lecture by Professor Margaret Lock , author of The Alzheimer Conundrum: Entanglements of Dementia and Aging and a Marjorie Bronfman Professor in Social Studies of Medicine, Emerita, Dept. of Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University, will be taking place on October 24th.

This lecture has been convened by Dr Sahra Gibbon to form part of UCL’s Festival of Ageing and is supported by UCL Science Medicine and Society Network and UCL Anthropology.

The event is free (you can register here) and will be taking place from 6:00-7:30 PM in Gordon Square, London. For more details about the event itself, click here or email

lock_alzheimer11111Alzheimer’s disease is increasingly described today as an epidemic, with estimates of 115 million cases worldwide by 2050. Less visible are the ongoing epistemological arguments in the medical world about the observed entanglements of AD type dementia with “normal” aging, and the repeated efforts to delineate what exactly constitutes this elusive yet devastating condition. In early 2011 official statements appeared in relevant medical journals about a so-called paradigm shift involving a move towards a preventative approach to AD in which the detection of biomarkers indicative of prodromal Alzheimer’s disease is central. In this talk I will discuss the significance of risk predictions associated with such biomarkers, and the irresolvable uncertainties such information raises for involved individuals and families.


Q&A with Douglas Stone, Author of “Einstein and the Quantum”

Einstein and the QuantumA. Douglas Stone is the Carl A. Morse Professor of Applied Physics and Physics at Yale University. His book, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian, reveals for the first time the full significance of Albert Einstein’s contributions to quantum theory. Einstein famously rejected quantum mechanics, observing that God does not play dice. But, in fact, he thought more about the nature of atoms, molecules, and the emission and absorption of light–the core of what we now know as quantum theory–than he did about relativity.

In a recent interview, A. Douglas Stone talked about Einstein’s contributions to the scientific community, quantum theory, and his new book, Einstein and the Quantum: The Quest of the Valiant Swabian.

Why does quantum theory matter?
At the beginning of the 20th century science was facing a fundamental roadblock: scientists did not understand the laws governing the atoms and molecules of which all materials are made, but which are unobservable due to their size.

At that time there was a real question whether the human mind was capable of understanding this microscopic realm, outside of all our direct experience of the world.  The development and success of quantum theory was a turning point for modern civilization, enabling most of the scientific advances and revolutionary technologies of the century that followed.

What are some of the ways that quantum theory has changed our lives?
There is a common misconception that quantum mechanics is mainly about very weird phenomena, remote from everyday life, such as Schrodinger’s cat, exotic sub-atomic particles, black holes, or the Big Bang.  Actually it is a precise quantitative tool to understand the materials, chemical reactions and devices we employ in modern industries, such as semiconductors, solar cells, and lasers.  An early success of the quantum theory was to help predict how to extract ammonia from the air, which could then be used as fertilizer for the green revolution that revolutionized 20th century agriculture. And of course our ability to develop both nuclear weapons and nuclear power was completely dependent upon quantum theory.

Why is Einstein’s role in quantum theory important and interesting?
It is important because a careful examination of the historical record shows that Einstein was responsible for more of the fundamental new concepts of the theory than any other single scientist.  This is arguably his greatest scientific legacy, despite his fame for Relativity Theory.  He himself said, “I have thought a hundred times more about the quantum problems than I have about Relativity Theory”. It is interesting because he ultimately refused to accept quantum theory as the ultimate truth about Nature, because it violated his core philosophical principles.

So you are saying that Einstein is famous for the wrong theory?
In a certain sense, yes.  All physicists agree that the theory of relativity, particularly general relativity, is a work of staggering individual genius.  But in terms of impact on human society and history, quantum mechanics is simply much more important.  In fact, relativity theory is incorporated into important parts of modern quantum mechanics, but in many contexts it is irrelevant.

In what ways was Einstein central to the development of the theory?
I estimate that his contributions to quantum theory would have been worthy of four Nobel Prizes if different scientists had done them, compared to the one that he received. I go through each of these contributions in its historical and biographical context in the book.

Can you give a few examples?
Quantum theory gets its name because it says that certain physical quantities, including the energies of electrons bound to atomic nuclei are quantized, meaning that only certain energies are allowed, whereas in macroscopic physics energy is a continuously varying quantity.  Typically the German physicist, Max Planck, is credited with the insight that energy must be quantized at the molecular scale, but the detailed history shows Einstein role in this conceptual breakthrough was greater.
Another key thing in quantum theory is that fundamental particles, while they move in space, sometimes behave as if they were spread out, like a wave in water, but in other contexts they appear as particles, i.e. very localized point-like objects.  Einstein introduced this “wave-particle duality” first, in 1905 (his “miracle year”), when he proposed that light, long thought to be an electromagnetic wave, also could behave like a particle, now known as the photon.
Yet another, very unusual concept in quantum theory is that fundamental particles, such as photons, are “indistinguishable” in a technical sense.  When many photons are bunched together it makes no sense to ask which is which.  This changes their physical properties in a very important way, and this insight is often attributed to the Indian physicist, S. N. Bose (hence the term “boson”).  In my view Einstein played a larger role in this advance than did Bose, although he always very generously gave Bose a great deal of credit.
The stories of these and other findings are fully told in the book and they illustrate new aspects of Einstein’s genius, unknown to the public and even to many working scientists.

What did Einstein object to about quantum theory?
Initially he reacted strongly against the intrinsic randomness and uncertainty of quantum mechanics, saying “God does not play dice”.  But after that his main objection was that quantum theory seems to break down the distinction between the subjective world of human experience and the objective description of physical reality that he considered the goal of physics, and his central mission in life. Many physicists struggle with this issue even today.

Why is Einstein’s role in quantum theory underappreciated?
Einstein ultimately rejected the theory and moved on to other areas of research, so he never emphasized the extent of his contributions.  His own autobiographical notes, written in his seventies, understate his role to an almost laughable degree. Second, Einstein’s version of quantum theory, wave mechanics, did not create a school of followers, whereas Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg and others reached the same point be a different route. Their school fostered the primary research thrust in atomic and nuclear physics, gradually causing the memory of Einstein’s role to fade.  Finally, the history of Einstein’s involvement with quantum theory was long (1905-1925) and complex, and few people really understand it all; I try to remedy that in this book.

Did Einstein do anything important in quantum physics after the basic theory was known?
No and yes.  He did not work in the main stream of elementary particle physics which developed shortly after the basic theory was discovered in the late nineteen twenties, since he refused to employ the standard mathematical machinery of quantum theory which everyone else used.  However, in the early 1930’s he identified a conceptual feature of quantum theory missed by all the other pioneers, which became known by the term “entanglement”. This concept, ironically, is critical to the most revolutionary area of modern quantum physics, quantum information theory and quantum computing.

What does the subtitle of the book refer to? Who is the “Valiant Swabian”?
The Valiant Swabian was a fictional crusader knight, the hero of a poem by Ludwig Uhland, a poet from Swabia where Einstein was born. In his twenties, Einstein used to refer to himself jokingly by this name, particularly with his first wife, Mileva Maric.  It was a similar to someone today calling himself “Indiana Jones” for fun.  The young Einstein was a charismatic and memorable personality, with great joie de vivre, as this nickname indicates.  He was known for his sense of humor, his rebelliousness, and for his attractiveness to women, in contrast to the benevolent, grandfatherly, star-gazer we associate with iconic pictures of the white-maned sage of later years.

How did you research this book? What materials did you have access to?
There is a very extensive trove of letters and private papers that survive in Einstein’s estate, all of which have been translated and published for the period 1886 to 1922.  From reading all of these I got a good sense of his personality.  And all of his important scientific papers in the relevant time period are available in English now, so I was able to go back and see exactly how he arrived at his revolutionary ideas about quantum theory, which I then did my best to interpret in layman’s terms. In addition I relied on several excellent biographies by Folsing, Isaacson and Pais, and historical articles by many leading historians of science, such as T.S. Kuhn and Martin Klein.

What do you hope readers take away from reading Einstein and the Quantum?
First, new insight into Einstein’s genius, and a sense of the personality of the young Einstein, before his fame. Second, appreciation of the historic significance of the successful attempt to understand the atom through quantum theory, a turning point in human civilization. Third, an understanding of how science advances as a creative, human process, with both brilliant insights and embarrassing blunders, affected by psychological and philosophical influences.


Neuro by Nikolas Rose & Joelle M. Abi-Rached “The ‘neurofication’ of the humanities, social sciences, public policy, and the law has attracted promoters and detractors. What we have lacked until now is a critical but open-minded look at ‘neuro.’ This is what Rose and Abi-Rached have given us in this thoughtful and well-researched book. They do not jump on the neuro bandwagon, but instead offer a clear accounting of its appeal, its precedents in psychology and genetics, its genuine importance, and ultimately its limitations. A fascinating and important book.”–Martha J. Farah, University of Pennsylvania

The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind
by Nikolas Rose & Joelle M. Abi-Rached

The brain sciences are influencing our understanding of human behavior as never before, from neuropsychiatry and neuroeconomics to neurotheology and neuroaesthetics. Many now believe that the brain is what makes us human, and it seems that neuroscientists are poised to become the new experts in the management of human conduct. Neuro describes the key developments–theoretical, technological, economic, and biopolitical–that have enabled the neurosciences to gain such traction outside the laboratory. It explores the ways neurobiological conceptions of personhood are influencing everything from child rearing to criminal justice, and are transforming the ways we “know ourselves” as human beings. In this emerging neuro-ontology, we are not “determined” by our neurobiology: on the contrary, it appears that we can and should seek to improve ourselves by understanding and acting on our brains.

Neuro examines the implications of this emerging trend, weighing the promises against the perils, and evaluating some widely held concerns about a neurobiological “colonization” of the social and human sciences. Despite identifying many exaggerated claims and premature promises, Neuro argues that the openness provided by the new styles of thought taking shape in neuroscience, with its contemporary conceptions of the neuromolecular, plastic, and social brain, could make possible a new and productive engagement between the social and brain sciences.


Table of Contents

Watch Nikolas Rose describe how the recent developments in the neurosciences are changing the way individuals consider their identity in health and disease

Sample this book:

Introduction [PDF]

Request an examination copy.


How to Build a Habitable Planet

How to Build a Habitable Planet by Charles H. Langmuir & Wally Broecker “To be worth being this unwieldy, a book ought to do something pretty remarkable. And that’s just what How to Build . . . does, as you can tell from its subtitle, The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. Now that’s what you call a large canvas.”–Brian Clegg, Popular Science

How to Build a Habitable Planet:
The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind
by Charles H. Langmuir & Wally Broecker

Since its first publication more than twenty-five years ago, How to Build a Habitable Planet has established a legendary reputation as an accessible yet scientifically impeccable introduction to the origin and evolution of Earth, from the Big Bang through the rise of human civilization. This classic account of how our habitable planet was assembled from the stuff of stars introduced readers to planetary, Earth, and climate science by way of a fascinating narrative. Now this great book has been made even better. Harvard geochemist Charles Langmuir has worked closely with the original author, Wally Broecker, one of the world’s leading Earth scientists, to revise and expand the book for a new generation of readers for whom active planetary stewardship is becoming imperative.

Interweaving physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and biology, this sweeping account tells Earth’s complete story, from the synthesis of chemical elements in stars, to the formation of the Solar System, to the evolution of a habitable climate on Earth, to the origin of life and humankind. The book also addresses the search for other habitable worlds in the Milky Way and contemplates whether Earth will remain habitable as our influence on global climate grows. It concludes by considering the ways in which humankind can sustain Earth’s habitability and perhaps even participate in further planetary evolution.

Like no other book, How to Build a Habitable Planet provides an understanding of Earth in its broadest context, as well as a greater appreciation of its possibly rare ability to sustain life over geologic time.


Watch Wally Broecker deliver a public lecture addressing the global CO2 crisis at Columbia University

Table of Contents

Sample this book:

Preface [PDF]

Chapter 1 [PDF]

Request an examination copy.


TOMORROW: W. Bernard Carlson to be interviewed on The Diane Rehm Show

W. Bernard Carlson - Corcoran Department of History: University of VirginiaTune into The Diane Rehm Show 11:06 a.m. (ET) for an interview with W. Bernard Carlson, author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age.

Each week, more than 2.4 million listeners across the country tune in to The Diane Rehm Show, which has grown from a small local morning call-in show on Washington’s WAMU 88.5 to one of public broadcasting’s most-listened-to programs. In 2007 and 2008, the show placed among the top ten most powerful public radio programs, based on its ability to draw listeners to public radio stations. It is the only live call-in talk show on the list.

Diane’s guests include many of the nation’s top newsmakers, journalists and authors. Guests include former president Bill Clinton, General Tommy Franks, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Julie Andrews and Toni Morrison. Newsweek magazine calls the program one of the most interesting talk shows in the country. The National Journal says Diane is “the class act of the talk radio world.”

Each hour includes dialogue with listeners who call, e-mail, Tweet or post to Facebook to join Diane’s virtual community and take part in a civil exchange of ideas.

To find a station near you in the U.S. that broadcasts The Diane Rehm Show, click here:

For stations outside of the United States, visit NPR Worldwide:

Look at the W. Bernard Carlson interview information on The Diane Rehm Show website:

Inventor of the Electrical Age

W. Bernard Carlson

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

This major biography sheds new light on Tesla’s visionary approach to invention and the business strategies behind his most important technological breakthroughs.

W. Bernard Carlson is professor of science, technology, and society in the School of Engineering and Applied Science and professor of history at the University of Virginia. His books include Technology in World History and Innovation as a Social Process: Elihu Thomson and the Rise of General Electric, 1870-1900.


“Carlson sheds light on the man and plenty of his inventions. . . . [An] electric portrait.”–Publishers Weekly

“Superb. . . . Carlson brings to life Tesla’s extravagant self-promotion, as well as his eccentricity and innate talents, revealing him as a celebrity-inventor of the ‘second industrial revolution’ to rival Thomas Alva Edison.”–W. Patrick McCray, Nature

“A scholarly, critical, mostly illuminating study of the life and work of the great Serbian inventor.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Carlson even has something to teach readers familiar with Seifer’s dissection of Tesla’s tortured psyche in Wizard (2001) and O’Neill’s much earlier chronicle of Tesla’s childhood and early career in Prodigal Genius (1944). Carlson provides not only a more detailed explanation of Tesla’s science but also a more focused psychological account of Tesla’s inventive process than do his predecessors. Carlson also surpasses his predecessors in showing how Tesla promoted his inventions by creating luminous illusions of progress, prosperity, and peace, illusions so strong that they finally unhinge their creator. An exceptional fusion of technical analysis of revolutionary devices and imaginative sympathy for a lacerated ego.”–Bryce Christensen, Booklist starred review

“This is a fascinating glimpse into the life of a monumental inventor whose impact on our contemporary world is all too unfamiliar to the general public. Carlson relates the science behind Tesla’s inventions with a judicial balance that will engage both the novice and the academic alike. Highly recommended to serious biography buffs and to readers of scientific subjects.”–Brian Odom, Library Journal