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Tesla: Man Out of Time

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  4,958 ratings  ·  429 reviews
In this “informative and delightful” (American Scientist) biography, Margaret Cheney explores the brilliant and prescient mind of Nikola Tesla, one of the twentieth century’s greatest scientists and inventors.

In Tesla: Man Out of Time, Margaret Cheney explores the brilliant and prescient mind of one of the twentieth century's greatest scientists and inventors. Called a mad
Paperback, 400 pages
Published October 9th 2001 by Touchstone (first published 1981)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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 ·  4,958 ratings  ·  429 reviews

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Josh Hamacher
Sep 30, 2010 rated it did not like it
What a disappointing read! I honestly struggled to finish this biography after starting it with such high hopes.

Tesla is a fascinating character. His early work laid the groundwork for much of the modern alternating-current-based electrical grid. Later on he made major discoveries in wireless communications but was unable to capitalize on either. The later part of his life is marked by grand proclamations but little actual experimentation. He's something of a controversial figure and the jury is
Jun 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
I am a huge fan of Tesla. Whenever someone cannot comprehend how visionaries like Galileo or Copernicus where tormented for being "ahead of their time" all one has to do is look at Tesla's life for an example as to how it can happen. It wasn't until after his death that it was actually proved he was the true inventor of radio.

Unfortunately, Cheney's unbridled love/adoration for Telsa severely mars an otherwise well researched treatise. I've never read a biography where so many sentences begin wi
Aug 31, 2009 rated it liked it
I few years ago I bought a really excellent album by The Handsome Family called "Last Days Of Wonder." One of the best songs on the album, and the song for which the album was named, was about Nikola Tesla. The song described Tesla's oddness, of course, but its true power came from the use of Tesla himself as a metaphor for the way that we used to think about science and scientists.

Of course I wasn't alive at the time, but from various sources I pick up the idea that, from the beginning of the
Apr 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
After slogging through over 300 pages of this, I checked the weather forecast yesterday and found it was nice enough to ride my bike to work. "Good," I thought, "I won't have to read that Tesla book on the streetcar this afternoon." Upon thinking this, and realizing how little I was enjoying this book, I returned it to the library unfinished this morning.

The author perhaps tries her best to provide a critical viewpoint of Tesla's life, but it comes across more as a very long fan letter. There ar
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A solid biography of Nikola Tesla. Cheney’s book filled in many details I didn’t know about Tesla, such as how he lived much of his adult life in New York City hotel rooms and his friendship with the poet Robert Underwood Johnson and his wife Katharine. Cheney also discusses Tesla’s love of Serbian poetry. I’ve long been fascinated by his brief foray to Colorado Springs where he conducted large-scale experiments he couldn’t conduct in the city and she gives good information about that time perio ...more
Marjorie Snook
Jan 03, 2008 rated it liked it
I think Tesla may be one of the most brilliant and unique minds that this country has ever seen. I have been fascinated with Tesla ever since I heard about Tesla coils (which are devices that make artificial lightening). He is probably the greatest inventor of last century; Edison was simply a technician and a businessman, but Tesla was a visionary who foresaw a new, electrified world. He developed the system by which we generate most of our electricity, built the hydropower plant at Niagara Fal ...more
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was ok
While Nikola Tesla is an interesting man, this book did not live up to the man's genius. First off, the writing is not very good, it feels very haphazard and lacking in forethought. This sometimes reads like a list of accomplishments, Nikola Tesla did this, invented that, came up with this idea and so on. Secondly, this biography totally glorifies the man without ever viewing him in a critical way or with a critical approach. The main feeling I got from this book is that Tesla had a lot of ideas ...more
May 24, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
An excellent biography of a visionary, eccentric man given to strange obsessions and scientific genius. Well written, well researched, and well worth your time.

Briefly for flavor:

People speak of decades as if they form natural endings, when in fact they seldom end anything cleanly. Human survivors are dragged into new slices of time with which they feel no harmony and in which they are exposed to rasping change. So it was for Tesla in the Roaring Twenties. [p 275].
Larry Cunningham
Aug 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Tesla was a misunderstood and eccentric genius who was far ahead of his time, and this book did an admirable job in portraying the man and his work. It held my interest throughout; highly recommended.
Ed Coker
Feb 19, 2010 rated it really liked it
Tesla was the only real Leonardo da Vinci of our age (1856-1943). His genius was in the field of electricity. He was quirky, he was feared as a “mad scientist” an image that he developed and encouraged, he ended his years sitting on a park bench in Central Park covered with pigeons, but, in spite of all that, his incredible accomplishments were real and verifiable. Many of his inventions have been credited to others in the popular mind and his chief rivals, such as Thomas Edison and Marconi, won ...more
Dorothy Piper
Jan 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) truly was a man ahead of his time. He was born into an era when the materials that would prove his designs had yet to be invented. Even the words needed to convey his ideas had not been coined. Many of his designs are still classified seventy-three years after his death.
Tesla was a magician who held people spellbound while conjuring up his amazing discoveries. Margaret Cheney was clearly in his thrall, evidenced by her resolute championship of Tesla against Edison. The a
Sep 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone Science minded
Recommended to Carl by: Self
Here's to a real genius who was derailed by the monopolies who were threatened by him. He discovered free energy and was brilliant beyond comprehension. You have to read this book to see and understand the infinite possibilities of physics and science and their application.
Ashley Reid
Tesla was definitely a man ahead of his time. He also seems to be a man that was screwed over by a lot of people.

Some parts of the writing seemed to drag, but overall it was an interesting book about a great man.
Laura Leilani
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
This book has by far, the most information on Tesla. The amount of detail is phenomenal and her ability to refrain from passing judgement on the main characters shows a strong restraint. ( you’ll understand if you read the book*) She includes just enough history to really give you a sense of time. I actually learned several things about history that I had never known before.

If you are interested in reading about a genius, a man who, in the 1890’s, talked about “ a small machine everyone will ca
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Choosing a biography about nikola Tesla I came in with high expectations. Here was an individual whose intelligence and ingenuity are common knowledge but whose inner motivations and personality are obscured by the shroud of mysticism that is placed upon his genius. Despite Tesla being someone whose achievements have been the motivation and namesake for generations of engineers and Silicon Valley startups Tesla is rarely looked at as an individual. It was, therefore, the hope of better understan ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Brilliant man, who was ahead of his time!
The book wasn't easy to read, but I enjoyed it non the less. It was a first book about Tesla I read.
Júlia Martins
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: ebook
Fascinating character but such a boring read. I was picking up the book three times a day and was never able to make significant progress. Gave up halfway, after fifteen days.
Matt Mitrovich
May 11, 2015 rated it liked it
Originally posted here:

Nikola Tesla is one of those historical figures who seems to have been born to play a mad scientist. Besides his well-known cameo appearance in The Prestige by Christopher Priest, he has appeared in countless steampunk works, such as the Five Fists of Science and War of the Worlds: Goliath. He was a scientist, an inventor, a visionary and on top of all that he was just enough on the wrong side of the thin line between genius and ins
Micah Grant
Apr 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: self-improvement
Great biography of a legend. The author did a great job of trying to clear up some of the mysteries around Tesla, while still explaining sob of the some of the stranger behaviors of the inventor of the 20th century.
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The hero we needed, but not the hero we deserved
Todd Stockslager
Jun 08, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Even 65 years after his death, Tesla still stirs such intense emotions that he seems less a scientist than a spiritual leader. Some consider him the greatest mind in science with near-mythical powers of observation and ratiocination; others dismiss him as a fuzzy-minded thinker who envisioned great things but executed on few of them. This sharp disconnect clouds Cheney's biography, which introduces the reader to both sides of Tesla but clearly leans toward the worshipful respect and the dismissa ...more
Bill reilly
Jun 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
Thomas Edison is usually the first name that comes to mind when thinking of great inventors. Fuhgetaboutit! Nikola Tesla was far more prescient. A Serbian born in Croatia in 1856, coincidentally the same country my maternal grandfather was born in 1905. Both wound up in New York, Tesla in Manhattan, and my grandfather, Ivan Kirincic, in Queens. Ivan came here with very little formal education, and yet, he built a house by himself, including all the electrical and plumbing. I’m lucky if I can scr ...more
Alisa Kester
Nov 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
"Perhaps it is better in this present world of ours that a revolutionary idea or invention instead of being helped and patted, be hampered and ill-treated in its adolescence - by want of means, by selfish interest, pedantry, stupidity, and ignorance; that it be attacked and stifled; that it pass through bitter trials and tribulations, through the strife of commercial existence. So we do get our light. So all that was great in the past was ridiculed, condemned, combatted, suppressed - only to eme ...more
Theresa Leone Davidson
Dec 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Nikola Tesla was a genius inventor, and he certainly did not fall into the stereotypical geek category, being almost a playboy, and he also suffered from some phobias and obsessions that must have been hell for him. All of it makes for an interesting read although there were long spots in the book that were less interesting. Nevertheless, if you like the subject matter, I would highly recommend!
Leah K
Jun 22, 2012 rated it liked it
Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney

★ ★ ★

Tesla was a great inventor and great contributor to modern technology. Yet, he has often been forgotten and slipped through the cracks until the last couple decade. And if you're looking for a biography on this great (yet slightly neurotic and crazy) man, this is definitely the biography for you to pick up. It is detailed and is equal in talking about the good and the bad of this man. There are several books about him but from what I can tell, this
Jul 11, 2012 rated it liked it
I didn't know all that much about Nikola Tesla when I sat down with this book. The biography is extremely thorough and covers all aspects of his personal and professional life. Tesla was an intriguing and unique individual whose contributions to the world are incalculable, even if he did have some crackpot ideas along the way. If your grasp of the principles of electro-magnetism are a little rusty, be prepared to do some external study as you read this book or you will not understand what Tesla' ...more
Mar 30, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: biographies
Like most people (I like to assume), Nikola Tesla first really popped onto my radar by way of both my irredeemably tech-geeky social circle and the Meme Pits of the Internet. Coming across various little factoids about Tesla, I decided I needed to read at least one biography of the idiosyncratic inventor, so I picked up this book and was not disappointed. Cheney clearly has a soft spot for Tesla, but avoids shading him too rosily; as quick as she is to expound upon his engineering genius and lov ...more
Aug 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Nikolai Tesla: great American or greatest American? Read this book to find out! Margaret Cheney has written the definitive biography of Tesla, mainly chronicling his life after his emigration to the United States. From his time working for Edison to his eventual death in a hotel room, alone and near insanity, the book portrays a sympathetic picture of a somewhat mad genius.
There are many nuggets of information about Tesla in this book that are not public knowledge or should be. For instance, di
Nov 28, 2014 rated it it was ok
If you know nothing about Tesla, you'll find out a lot of interesting things, like I did. The eccentric genius makes for an incredible story. And if I was to guess, I'd guess that Cheney did the most with the limited source material on Tesla, the man, that she could.

But it all seemed sadly incomplete. And the parts where Cheney tries to fill in can be nails on a chalkboard. There's a multi-page Freudian analysis of Tesla that includes absurd Freudian gobbledygook about nipples, maternal figures
Nov 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
One of the most interesting biographies that I've read in years. These days Edison is always personified as the great American inventor yet he comes off more as a crass capitalist when his works are set beside those of Nikola Tesla. Everything that humankind takes for granted in the 21st Century , all of our technological marvels, spring from the mind and experiments of this fantastic Serbian inventor: Alternating Current (far more powerful than Edison's Direct Current), Radio, Robots, X-Rays, N ...more
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