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Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  429 ratings  ·  41 reviews
Even the gods of old, in the wildest imaginings of their worshipers, never undertook such gigantic tasks of world-wide dimension as those which Tesla attempted and accomplished. -from Chapter One First published in 1944 and long a favorite of Tesla fans, this is a definitive biography of the man without whom modern civilization would not exist. Nikola Tesla, pioneer of ele ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published November 30th 2006 by Cosimo Classics (first published November 30th 1943)
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Chelsea Lawson
Mar 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I had known a good amount about Tesla and sort of idolized him already so it was really a matter of which of his many biographies would present his story in the best way. This looked like the quintessential one.

Tesla was a brilliant inventor and visionary in electricity and telecommunications (though hardly receives credit outside the scientific world), all stemming from the discovery of one "truth of overwhelming importance for the advancement of humanity." "That this planet, with all its appa
Richard Houchin
Mar 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
I find it curious how much time and energy is devoted to debating questions of primacy with the discovery of theories and machines. I've read biographical info on Tesla and Newton and Leibniz, and much of the extant written record of their lives and contributions to science come in the form of editorials and letters to newspapers and societies proving with great attention to detail exactly when they discovered this or that concept.

It's an exercise in differing perspectives: at the time, all of t
Apr 28, 2010 rated it liked it
They don't write biographies like this any more. But the crazed gushing style, weird sexism, and total lack of documentation make this strangely fun. I don't believe anything in this book, but I still enjoy reading it.
I really liked the bit where at a young age, Tesla made a 16 Junebug powered motor, and the son of an Army commander comes over and eats all of Tesla's spare bugs. This whole book is just that weird.
Finished it. Tesla was an amazing man, with a towering intellect and enormous f
Robert Risher
Apr 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book deserves 5 stars for informational content but inconsistent storytelling brought the score down for me. Once I pressed through the markedly absurd though graspingly humorous hero-worship of the first section, I was enthralled with tremendous accomplishments of the historical enigma that Tesla has become. If the author is accurate in his portrayal of Tesla's discoveries then Tesla is certainly worthy of the cultic endearment that's developed in modern times. Late in the book, the author ...more
Stephanie Griffin
Jan 28, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author of this book, James O'Neill, was clearly infatuated with Tesla. I've read a couple of other biographies of Tesla, so a lot of it was repeated, but I feel that this version does hold more depth. Two new facts I didn't know: Tesla had a phobia of pearls and a deep love for pigeons.
If you're going to read a biography of Nikola Tesla, read this one.
Jan 14, 2011 rated it liked it
This book reads like a verbal masturbation of Dr. Tesla's career. I am a huge fan of Nikola Tesla's research, but O'Neill really takes it far beyond "doting fanboyism". The first half of the book (especially the War of the Currents chapters) was a terrific read, the latter half became quite a chore as the author started getting into the more technical details of Tesla's projects. What was most frustrating, is the almost apologetic nature of the author's tone towards Tesla's shortcomings. This co ...more
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This detailed account of the life of Nikola Tesla, the genius behind alternating current and a host of other inventions, would be of great interest to the science-minded reader. While the nuances of the experiments conducted by Tesla are part-and-parcel of this account, the real value of this book is in the description of the social, political and economic environment of the time. Anecdotes about how Tesla's environment was shaped by Bell, Marconi, Hertz, Faraday, and Edison among others, place ...more
Dec 09, 2007 rated it liked it
A bit of a slog to get through but Tesla's life is worth reading about. The day I finished reading it I was in Manhattan for business and quite accidentally found myself at the corner 40th Street and 6th Avenue, officially known as “Nikola Tesla Corner”. It works that way with Tesla... ...more
Kaden Gordon
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
People who don't like biographies usually don't like how they just talk too long about the boring parts of the persons' lives, like the parts where nothing is happening in an action movie. It just doesn't make people want to continue. Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla by John J. O'Neill is not like that though. I like it because of that since I am one of those people.
The theme of this book is really cool. Usually biographies are about the person. They say “Even though this information
Spicy T AKA Mr. Tea
I will start by saying that this edition isn't the one I read; the edition I have was written in 1978 and published by Angriff Press of Hollywood, CA. I didn't see that edition in the choices.

That being said, this was a fast paced, highly intriguing, biography of Nikola Tesla--a truly remarkable person! The book is very much written in journalistic voice with a dash of that early 20th century writing style that I love to read in biographies written at the turn of the century.

The book talks abou
Katie Dunn
Jul 30, 2012 rated it liked it
"During the last three decades of his life, it is probable that not one out of tens of thousands who saw him knew who he was" (308).

Tesla - genius. Not perfect. Full of idiosyncrasies. Not much common sense as far as money goes, OCD-ed, alone for the most of his life but giving up millions to help humanity, modest yet refusing a Nobel Prize (which was never officially awarded, only announced) due to pride. He was not an inventor, or so he would like to think. Instead he contributed fundamentals
May 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
If you are a Tesla freak like me, this is the seminal book to know everything about him. If you are anything other than that, then you're in for a slog. In short, Prodigal Genius' strength and its weakness is in its thoroughness. Unfortunately it includes huge tracts from Tesla's writing, which is...dense. True to all engineer types, Mr. Tesla cares not whether a soul in the world follows a word that he's saying. While I would kill to hear any of these lectures in person, reading them for pages ...more
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the most even-handed biography of Tesla I've read. Rather than blaming his death in poverty on greedy capitalists, it focuses the cause on Tesla himself and his laser-like focus on his research. He could have easily hired someone to act as a business development manager, and continued to spend his efforts where it was truly beneficial; regrettably, even thinking that far on practical matters was not perceived to be worth his time. It's truly a shame that the world lost his brilliance as ...more
Monica Cichosz
Apr 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I found this book incredibly profound even though most of the electricity talk was over my head. Tesla was an amazing person and I was left with a deep what-if feeling at the end. How different would our world be if he had shared his later inventions and ideas? I thought it well written and though this was not a quick read--I frequently took breaks and read more entertaining books-- I really enjoyed this book.
Feb 23, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was great, first book I've read about Tesla and a great intro. Written by a friend and contemporary, it takes a bit to get used to the style, but once you realize it, it's a great time machine. Definitely going to read more about Tesla and I find it amazing how forgotten and unrecognized he has become. ...more
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, liked
It was fascinating to read about this amazing man, a true genius, who dedicated his life to science, but whose activity was sadly hindered by financial issues and by the ignorance or envy of other leading scientists. Too bad the technical details were mainly lost on me, as I don't have the necessary background. ...more
Jeromy Peacock
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was ok
I really like Tesla but this author is very repetitive and injects himself into the story way too much. I will have to find a better Tesla biography.

5 stars = Yearly re-read
4 stars = Re-read eventually
3 stars = Very Good
2 stars = OK
1 stars = Pass on this one.
0 stars = Couldn't finish it.
Jun 24, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't get into the writing of the book. It's very dry and kind of impersonal, even though the writer supposedly knew Tesla very well. It also needs illustrations, for all the technical descriptions of Tesla's inventions for those not mechanically minded. ...more
Apr 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tesla
Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla, Inventor Extraordinary by John J. O'Neill
Series: No
Format: Hardcover
Stars: 4
Recommend: Yes
Would Reread: No

I give honest reviews and all my opinions are my own.

For more of my reviews go to Heavenly High Seas Books
Apr 10, 2021 rated it really liked it
The beginning is pretty good and interest waned through the middle. Push through. The finale gives the description of who he was a person. Quite an intriguing individual. Absolute genius who changed the world.
James Wanliss
May 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Exhaustive and epic
this book represents the life of one of the greatest minds ever lived.this book truely inspires to make one have a better tomorrow
Nam Nguyễn Danh Hoài
Feb 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
magnificent with a little sadness
Apr 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
The book is well written and vivid with detail about Tesla's life and experiments. I am not, however, a scientist at heart and skimmed much that dealt with the details of his discoveries and inventions. O'Neill clearly revered the scientist, though he refrains from all-out hero worship by including critiques from the broader scientific community, and acknowledging many of Tesla's personal faults (disinterest in remaining financially solvent, a disinterest in other scientists in his field, and Ed ...more
Jul 02, 2011 marked it as to-read
The author of this book loves him some Tesla viz.:

Even as he walked among the teeming millions of New York he became a fabled individual who seemed to belong to the far-distant future or to have come to us from the mystical realm of the gods, for he seemed to be an admixture of a Jupiter or a Thor who hurled the shafts of lightning; an Ajax who defied the Jovian bolts, a Prometheus who transmuted energy into electricity to spread over the earth; an Aurora who would light the skies as a terrestr
Jenny Zhao
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
As a biography, the book accounts the life of Tesla in an extremely appreciative way, since the writer himself has befriended with the genius and admire him sincerely. While I am not sure if the review is biased, I am amazed at the life of the sublime superman by his extraordinary capability, intelligence and passion. I envy his talents. "A quick reading of a page gave him a permanent record of it; he could always recall before his eyes a photographic record of it to be read, and could study at ...more
Carol Lander
May 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
Though I am fascinated by Tesla, I have to read this book as research, so it is slow going for me. I never could read textbooks with much enthusiasm.

Update: I changed my mind. As I got into it more, I found I wanted to know more and more about Tesla and so then couldn't put it down.

Some research on the Internet may have helped cause this enthusiasm.
May 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An eye opening read which draws the reader into the life of the man who invented the 21st century. Despite being a bit on the long side, it felt nearly impossible to put the book down. I would highly recommend this book to any fans of modern day technology.
Chase Appich
no wonder a car company is named after him

Goes into detail about his life work. Explains why he was such a brilliant mind. Worth your time. Check out the comic by the oatmeal as well. It's what got me into reading the biography.
I had to give up on this. This was more a catalog of Tesla's inventions than a story of his life. No real insight into how his mind worked.
You name, Tesla invented it and no one gave him credit for it. The same thing over and over.
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Author by someone that truly knew him. 1 5 Mar 18, 2013 08:48PM  

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