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Bedtime Biography: Tesla

Man out of time

By Margaret Cheney
7-minute read
Audio available
Bedtime Biography: Tesla by Margaret Cheney

Narrated by Valeri Ross
Music by Federico Coderoni

Tesla (1981) offers an enlightening and intimate account of the life and accomplishments of one of history’s most thought-provoking and innovative inventors. It charts the career of Nikola Tesla from his early battles with Thomas Edison, to the controversial debate over the invention of radio communication.

  • Anyone interested in physics or engineering
  • People interested in the history of electricity and popular science
  • Curious inventors

Margaret Cheney numbers among the preeminent biographers of Nikola Tesla. Her works also include Tesla: Master of Lightning, co-written with Robert Uth, and a biography of jazz singer Mabel Mercer entitled Midnight at Mabel’s

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Bedtime Biography: Tesla

Man out of time

By Margaret Cheney
  • Read in 7 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 5 key ideas
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Bedtime Biography: Tesla by Margaret Cheney
Synopsis

Narrated by Valeri Ross
Music by Federico Coderoni

Tesla (1981) offers an enlightening and intimate account of the life and accomplishments of one of history’s most thought-provoking and innovative inventors. It charts the career of Nikola Tesla from his early battles with Thomas Edison, to the controversial debate over the invention of radio communication.

Key idea 1 of 5

Chapter 1

Bedtime Biographies are best when listened to.  Check out the audio version to get the full experience!

 

There’s no doubt about it, Nikola Tesla was one of the most important inventors of all time. Throughout his long life, he never stopped innovating. Idea after idea after idea sprang from his wondrous mind: wireless power, radar, AC electricity…

You could even say that the modern world is built upon Tesla’s ideas and inventions. But what made him such an amazing inventor? In this bedtime biography, we’ll take a journey through the life of Nikola Tesla. It’s quite the tale. So, sit back, relax, and listen to our story of Nikola Tesla, a man out of time.

 

Nikola Tesla was born at midnight. The year was 1856, and as July 9 came to an end and July 10 began, baby Nikola was born. His family lived in a tiny ramshackle house in a small Croatian village called Smiljan. Next door was the Orthodox Church where his father was the priest. It was a humble beginning. Most men born in this mountainous backwater went on to live simple, rural lives. They would farm the land, become ministers at a local church, or enlist as officers in the army.

But the young Nikola was destined to take a different path.

 

From the very start, Nikola was unique. He was bright and eccentric, and possessed of a very vivid imagination. He had a powerful photographic memory, just like his mother. Both of them could reel off line upon line of poetry and literature from memory. Later in life, he would hone this skill as he conceptualized and created new inventions. Using nothing but his mind, he would design intricate contraptions. No pen. No paper. No calculator or visual aid. He could do it all in his head.

Nikola put all these skills to use from a young age. When he was just five years old, he designed a small waterwheel – and not just any old water wheel, either. It was unlike anything for miles around. It didn’t even have paddles, but it worked! At just five, he’d created a unique invention! The first of many.

 

Nikola’s childhood was full of scrapes. He nearly drowned more than once. He fought with mad dogs. He got entombed in an ancient shrine. He tried to jump off his roof and fly. And, once, he was nearly boiled alive in a vat of milk! It’s a miracle he lived through it all, but, whatever befell him, Tesla somehow made it through alive.

His elder brother was not so lucky.

The Tesla family owned a beautiful Arabian horse – a gift from a friend. The family loved it, and for good reason. It had once saved Nikola’s father in the wolf-infested mountains surrounding their village. The whole family showered the horse with affection. But one day, the older Nikola later recalled, the horse was involved in the death of Daniel Tesla, Nikola’s older brother. Daniel was just 12 years old. Tesla gave no more details, and no one knows what happened exactly. No one actually knows whether the horse was involved at all.

Tesla’s parents were devastated. Nikola tried to console his parents the only way he knew how. He became the best student he could be. By the age of eight, he’d developed a strong interest in engineering and physics. He excelled at math, and, within a few years, he could even perform integral calculus in his head. And he read constantly – always wanting to know more about everything.

 

Nikola’s profound mental capacities were obviously a strength. But, in some ways, they were also a weakness.

Picture the young Tesla laying in his bed in the dead of night. Suddenly, images and hallucinations from earlier in the day begin to dance before his eyes. The things he’s seen – the funeral he’d witnessed earlier, the view from his garden – appear like photographs in front of his eyes, and they’re often accompanied by strange flashes of light. He’s terrified and anxious. He’s also used to it.

These strange hallucinations plagued Tesla throughout his childhood, and were probably caused by his powerful and excited mind.

Nor were these the only problems caused by his overactive mind. He also developed an array of phobias. He had a fear of germs, a fear of women’s earrings, a fear of pearl jewelry.

He also experienced strong compulsive behaviors. Before his meals, Tesla would carefully calculate the cubic volume of his food and drink. Before each coffee, soup, or cut of meat, he’d work out just how much was there. If he didn’t, he couldn’t enjoy his food.

This particular habit also led to his preference for dining alone.

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