It's not unusual to find electrical engineers and inventors skewed to the edge of the weirdness spectrum, but Nikola Tesla was in a class all his own, as represented in Richard Munson's illustrated biography, Tesla: Inventor of the Modern. He was a Croatian-born ethnic Serbian immigrant who stood 6'2", weighed 140 pounds, dressed to the nines, spoke eight languages, slept only three hours a day, memorized and wrote poetry, filed 300 patents and mesmerized Wall Street investor audiences with crackling Jedi-like light tubes arcing between eight-foot electrically charged plates. He was like an uber-nerd forerunner of Elon Musk--the charismatic entrepreneur who named his car company after Tesla. On the other hand, Tesla was also a celibate germaphobe, a superstitious numerologist and a lousy businessman who died broke at age 86, in the New Yorker Hotel.
More than just a biography of this strange genius, however, Munson's Tesla is a history of the nascent electric power industry and men like Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse and Guglielmo Marconi, who competed with Tesla to bring the miracle of electricity to the masses. Under license to Westinghouse, Tesla's "alternating current" generator converted the electricity market from Edison's "direct current" limited access system to the ubiquitous power grid in place today.
An inventor's inventor, Tesla never managed to leverage his genius into the wealth that Edison did. And Munson (From Edison to Enron), a Midwest businessman and energy wonk, taps a variety of primary sources, industry trade literature and Tesla's autobiography, My Inventions, to flesh out this enigmatic inventor and contrarian thinker. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.