Tesla & Twain by Debbie Elliott
|Tesla & Twain by Debbie Elliott|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A flavoursome novel based on the odd but enduring friendship between inventor Nicola Tesla and writer Mark Twain. Fictionalised, but basically accurate, it's an enjoyable read, if slightly let down by presentation and proofing.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 241||Date: September 2008|
|Publisher: Four O'Clock Press|
|External links: [http:/www.debbie-elliott.co.uk Author's website]|
History remembers nineteenth century inventor Nikola Tesla as a mad scientist, and he did indulge in some very peculiar experiments, most notably the directed-energy weapon, or death-ray, as the press of the time gleefully dubbed it. But the truth is that his work was of groundbreaking importance: he developed the electrical alternating current and the AC motor, and much more. The average person probably has a better awareness of Samuel Clemens - who wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn under his pen name Mark Twain, and who was known as one of the foremost satirists of his day. But perhaps they don't know that Twain was fascinated by scientific inquiry, or that these two seemingly disparate men were great friends.
In Tesla & Twain, Debbie Elliott expands this friendship into a novel that covers Tesla's competitive relationship with Thomas Edison, the hydro-electric system at Niagara Falls, and the infamous death-ray. It's an absorbing, fascinating and affectionate look at these two historical figures and it does a great job of bringing them to life. Twain is witty and debonair. Tesla is brilliant but embittered. Both men are ever so slightly eccentric.
Mark Twain is a big hero of mine and I think Nikola Tesla is an absolutely fascinating character, uncomplimented by history in comparison to Edison, his great rival, and so I had high hopes of Tesla & Twain. By and large, they were satisfied. It's a novel, so not everything is perfectly true, but the book is extremely well researched and Elliott has certainly stuck to the spirit of the historical record. She gives a real flavour of these two larger-than-life, idiosyncratic men, but their oddities never detract from her portrayal of a pair of highly intelligent and original thinkers. The times in which they lived also come across well - the sky is the limit for these men, in a time of invention and progress, and Tesla's "patents on destructive terror" weren't quite the death rays they appear to us, more than a hundred years later.
In fact, my only real criticisms of the book are technical. Sentence construction can be a little gauche at times. Paragraphs are oddly presented like letters with an extra carriage return, which disturbs one's flow of reading. Elliott uses the ampersand instead of the word and throughout, which also disturbs the flow, and the proofing does leave something to be desired. Good punctuation helps the reader!
Besides these practical problems, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book, with an absorbing narrative about two fascinating figures from history, about whom it's clear Debbie Elliott knows a great deal.
You might also enjoy The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt, which also fictionalises the life of Nikola Tesla. Although Mark Twain isn't actually the focus of The Ghost at the Table by Suzanne Berne, he features heavily in it.
You can read more book reviews or buy Tesla & Twain by Debbie Elliott at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Tesla & Twain by Debbie Elliott at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.