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09 February 2013

Charles Rivers Editors: Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla: The Pioneers of Electricity

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Recently I have been enjoying reading a few short Readers' Digest style "histories" of famous people and events which are helping me to expand and keep my memories in order. This one attracted me as I only have a passing knowledge of Thomas Edison and knew little about Nicola Tesla. This is a quick and interesting read but waffles a bit towards the end. I really didn't get as much from this little book as I had hoped possibly because I don't understand the basic physics about how electrical equipment works.

This book compares the background and achievements of two very different people who both had a long term impact on the way we live. Edison was Mr Fixit, improve it and sell it. Tesla had a genius level IQ, eidetic memory and engineering education who was responsible for some fundamental developments in the use of electricity. They were both perpetual inventors and improvers, sometimes successful but frequently unsuccessful. At one time they worked together but with such different personalities they soon fell out and split.

Edison was commercially well known for his work with the electric light bulb and the phonograph. Tesla was well known in his time but his developments are not so commercially evident and his name is not as well known as Edison. Tesla's greatest achievement was winning a fierce battle with Edison over the commercialisation of large scale Alternating Current power generation and use, when Edison championed Direct Current.

Who was the Father of the Electric Age? Probably the answer on balance is lesser known Tesla for his work on AC. It is sad that such a genius died virtually penniless. Edison was the businessman always intent on the commercialisation of his products and his work is much better known


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