A Life Electric: The Story of Nikola Tesla

Viking. Jul. 2021. 40p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780593114605.
Gr 2-5–Young Nikola Tesla was first fascinated by electricity when he stroked his cat and produced sparks. This led to a lifelong quest to solve mysteries of the natural world. Tesla was well educated, and the seed for his greatest scientific discovery—alternating current (AC)—evolved from a line of poetry dealing with forward and backward motion. This poetic image made him realize that current could also travel back and forth and thus provide electricity over long distances. After his method of illumination was used to light up the sky at the Chicago World’s Fair, Tesla became known as the Wizard of Electricity. But his prominence was short-lived. His naivete resulted in financial downfall when his partner, George Westinghouse, experienced difficulties. And he suffered the consequences of a smear campaign led by his rival Thomas Edison. With spare language, Westergaard sensitively portrays the life of a gentle man whose moment of brilliance was bookended by his early love of nature and his later reclusive years in New York when he became a peculiar figure, devoted almost exclusively to feeding pigeons. Sardà’s dark palette appropriately echoes the somber tone. Extensive back matter and excellent sourcing are included.
VERDICT For both pleasure reading and report writing, this is a worthy introduction to a brilliant scientist whose contributions have often been overshadowed by the better-known Thomas Edison.

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