Monday, November 18, 2013

Electrical Wizard - a review


Rusch, Elizabeth. 2013. Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit Up the World. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.  Ill. by Oliver Dominguez.


While Thomas Edison was busy lighting up big American cities with his new invention, Nikola Tesla was pondering the current that made it possible.  While watching a college professor demonstrate a new electrical machine,
Inspiration flashed.
Nikola realized that the motor didn't need to be run by direct current.  Alternating current, like the kind created by the hand crank, could power the motor. Sticking with alternating current would be simpler than converting to direct current -- and it would eliminate that awful sparking.
His professor scoffed, and when Nikola Tesla traveled to the United States to meet his hero, Thomas Edison scoffed, too.  Although he gave Tesla a job, Edison saw Tesla's alternating current (AC) idea as a direct competitor to the power grid he had already set up using direct current (DC).  The two men had a falling out and became rivals in the race to power the United States.

Despite Edison's attempts to discredit Tesla's AC, which Edison considered (or at least feigned to consider) more dangerous, it was Nikola Tesla's alternating current that became the standard for the US, due largely to its spectacular debut at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the culminating event of Electrical Wizard: How Nikola Tesla Lit up the World.

Tesla polyphase exhibit at 1893 worlds fair

Inside the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago
By Starks W. Lewis, Brooklyn, NY [Public domain],
via Wikimedia Commons
Oliver Dominguez' illustrations in graphite, acrylic, gouache and ink add a feeling of age and seriousness, and break up the lengthy small text.  Electrical Wizard is a great choice for those inventor reports assigned each year. (Teachers, please allow the picture books!)

Back matter includes:

  • "Ahead of his Time" - a look at another Tesla invention - wireless transmission
  • "Tesla vs. Edison: The Rivalry" - notes on the inventors' rivalry (see note)
  • "Scientific Notes" - detailed, illustrated notes on AC and DC electricity and explanations of events featured in the book
  • "Select Bibliography & Further Reading"
Though born in Serbia, Tesla eventually made New York his home, and it is home to the Tesla Science Center.

Note:
In Edison's defense, that he and/or his associates electrocuted an elephant with AC current is true (and in a rather gruesome footnote, he actually filmed the event), however, the elephant had killed three people and had already been condemned to die. Electrocution was considered a more humane method of death for animals than the alternatives of the time.  Edison is guilty of using this horrific circumstance in an attempt to gain commercial advantage over Tesla by using alternating current to execute the animal, thereby implying an inherent danger in AC. However, he is not guilty of killing the elephant or other animals without any cause or motive save his own financial gain, a point not necessarily made clear in Electrical Wizard.
  References: 
  • 2003. "America's debt to Topsy." Economist 368, no. 8334: 33. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed November 16, 2013).
  • Pollard, JJ 2010, 'The eccentric engineer', Engineering & Technology (17509637), 5, 15, p. 80, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 16 November 2013.

Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra notwithstanding, Thomas Edison is one of New Jersey's most famous citizens. Though most know him for inventing the light bulb, he also invented most everything one would need to use a light bulb -  and most importantly, the system for delivering electricity to the lamp - in effect, the entire electrical system of his day.  He is also credited with inventing the phonograph and motion pictures. If you are in New Jersey, a trip to the National Park Service's Thomas Edison National Historic Park is an enlightening experience. (pun intended) ;)


Today's Nonfiction Monday roundup is hosted at NC Teacher Stuff
where you can check out other reviews of nonfiction books for children and young adults.

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