Tesla: Man Out of Time

TeslaThis week’s book recommendation is Tesla: Man Out of Time by Margaret Cheney. For anyone who only knows the name Tesla because of Elon Musk, you are in for a surprise because the company was named after a genius of a man. That man’s full name is Nikola Tesla and he was born on July 10th, 1856, and went on to become the reason we have electricity in our homes. Yes, Thomas Edison played a huge part in that, but he and Tesla also had a large feud historically named the Current Wars that went on to determine the future of electricity for the entire world.

This book, along with another written by Cheney called Tesla: Master of Lightning, goes into the details of Tesla’s life and how he was influential in his field while remaining fairly unknown. I think his name is coming back into popular view because of companies like the one named after him and because electricity is currently being used to produce more economically friendly alternatives throughout the world.

I became enthralled by Tesla when I was around fifteen. I was always taught that Edison had been the front-runner in the field of creating and producing electricity, but when I found out that Tesla was just as, if not more influential, in the field I could not help but delve deeper into who this seemingly unknown man was. I am glad I did because he remains one of my heroes. He is someone at the top of my list when asked that theoretical question: Who, alive or dead, would you like to have a conversation with?

Margaret Cheney was 22 years old when Nikola Tesla died in 1943. She has done thorough research and, luckily for us, produced excellent books that elaborate on a still mysterious man. This book was originally published in 1981. She uses articles written at the time of the events to show how Edison (technically indirectly) ran a rather inhumane smear campaign against Tesla. Seriously, they electrocuted an elephant as well as other animals to try and show that alternating current was dangerous. If they tried to do that today, they would all be in jail.

Tesla, on the other hand, never cared about money or fame. He only cared about his work. He even had an idea that would provide free electricity to everyone in the world. Sound familiar? Elon Musk recently threw out the idea of producing free (or cheap) wifi for everyone in the world. It’s good to see they are following in the footsteps of the man they admire. The Tesla company also pulled a namesake move when they released the patents on their electric vehicles to the public and stated that they would not charge royalties for anyone using them.

Anyway, before I give too much away, give this book a read if you are interested. As with most historical/biographical books, this one also gives a great glimpse into what life was like 120 years ago when electricity was a luxury.

Happy Reading.

What If Our World Is Their Heaven?

What If Our WorldThis week’s book recommendation is What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K. Dick. This book was one I found randomly at a book store. I had no idea it even existed, and I think it’s not too much of a stretch to say you didn’t know about it either.

I’ve recommended several books by Philip K. Dick before so of course I am a fan of his work, but this book is different. It’s actually an interview. Published in 2000, this “book” is really just a transcription of taped interviews that Gwen Lee had with Dick two months before he passed away on March 2nd, 1982 from a series of strokes. The transcription is unaltered and includes all “um”s and side-tracked conversations.

What I loved most about this short little “autobiography” of sorts is the glimpse into his mind. One of the key points included in this “book” is that it offers an insight into the book he was working on when he died. A book that was never finished. All we have of that would-be book is from these tapes. He discusses the plot in detail and gives us a glimpse of his writing process. The book would have been titled The Owl in Daylight and would have been an awesome read.

These interviews took place during the production of the Blade Runner movie as well, which is based on Dick’s novel Do Android Dream of Electric Sheep? It was really cool seeing how excited he was about the movie. Unfortunately, he never had the chance to see it beyond a few clips. He does discuss his book and the movie in these interviews.

I found it really interesting that he claimed he rarely read fiction. As a science fiction writer, you would think he read a lot of other novels including other science fiction work, but at the time of these interviews he admits he rarely read fiction anymore. He mostly read nonfiction and scientific books or articles. He was definitely an academic and loved learning new things. He mentions he learned Greek so he could read a religious text without a translation to make sure there was no confusion about the context.

As a writer, I found it really interesting how he wrote his novels. The few details we get state that he would pump out a novel in one go. Write the entire thing within a matter of ten days or two weeks. He would become obsessed with the work until it was finished. Even at the cost of his health unfortunately. This is something that pops up when he talks about The Owl in Daylight and I’m not sure if there was a purposeful connection or not. One character is making incredible art, but it is physically killing him, and the ultimate choice he is given is to continue as he is, making the art until he dies, or go back to making mediocre art and regain his health. The more I think about it, the more I wish the book was completed.

Most of Dick’s works center on a concept. That’s what I like about it so much. It is a conversation that the reader gets to be a part of. You can finish a short story or novel and you don’t feel like you’ve simply read a story. It gets your mind going. As with most of his stories, even this “book” that is really an interview made me want to write more. To explore concepts of my own and delve into the strange worlds I can create.

I’ll wrap this up before I ramble on too much. If you haven’t read anything by Philip K. Dick, do so as soon as possible. If you are a writer and haven’t read his work, do so as soon as possible or rather this very moment. Even if you have read his work and think it’s not for you, try this one out because it is about the man himself. Too often we enjoy the art, in whatever form, without really knowing anything about who created it. I’m glad I found the man as interesting as his work.

Happy Reading.

Robin

RobinThis week’s book recommendation is Robin by Dave Itzkoff. This is a thoroughly researched biography of Robin Williams. Nearly every account mentioned within these pages is told through first-hand experience by the people who were in Robin’s life at the time. It opens with the recounting of Robin’s childhood and education before quickly diving into his start in comedy. From there, it tells an unbiased account of Robin’s life all the way up until, and shortly after, Robin’s death in 2014.

Normally I’d add a quick statement about how a book like this might not appeal to many people, but in this case, I think this one does. Robin’s life and career has been experienced by millions of people. He was an icon and will continue to be one as future generations are introduced to his work. He was a well established film star by the time I was born but I was a huge fan of his. I was influenced by him. Inspired by him. I still am. Maybe even more now that I have a better understanding of who he was. I picked up this book simply to get to know him, and I’m glad I did.

I grew up watching several of his movies. His work in Mrs. Doubtfire, Hook, as Genie in Aladdin. I loved all of these movies (especially Hook). Some of his movies I think mean more to me now that I’ve grown up. I also still need to see many of his movies that I didn’t know he had made or were made well before my younger years. A few in particular that are on my watch list after reading this book are The Fisher King and Good Morning, Vietnam. This book does include a complete list of Robin’s works both on-screen and off and includes the awards he was nominated for or won. It’s always interesting to discover how a movie was received in its time when you only know it after it gained a reputation. Some of his movies that are iconic now did not fare well in theaters. His films successes and failures weighed heavily on him.

For anyone who may only be interested in this book as a means to find an answer, you need only read the final few chapters. Though I hope you care enough to read all of it to fully understand him as a man. After all, there is a difference between knowing and understanding.

I won’t say too much because this isn’t just a story. This is a man’s life. A man that you may very well already have an opinion of, be it high praise or possibly even no appreciation at all. To me, he was a man full of life and empathy. He genuinely cared about others more than you would expect from anyone. The world needs more people like him. I hope I can spread a fraction of the good that he did…I miss him.

This book is for anyone who wants a peek behind the exuberant force that was Robin Williams. I think you’ll be surprised what you find.

Happy Reading.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

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This week’s book recommendation is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. Originally published in 1974, this book is both autobiographical and philosophical fiction, which means it is based on true events while delving into philosophical topics that, well, make you think about the world we live in. This may be one reason I liked it despite struggling to get through a few, small sections of the book. This book is a bit long at 540 pages.

It starts off as a simple cross-country trip and ends up as an examination of the self. The subtitle “An Inquiry into Values” refers to the philosophical topics. There is a sequel to this book titled Lila: An Inquiry into Morals that I have yet to read and was not as popular as Motorcycle Maintenance, but I may eventually pick it up. Motorcycle Maintenance was Pirsig’s first book and became hugely popular shortly after its release selling approximately five million copies worldwide.

The title has been played off of since it first became popular. You have probably seen other books or titles that start with “Zen and the Art of [whatever]” around, but this title is actually a play off of Zen and the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel that actually goes into Buddhism and facts/practices of archery. Motorcycle Maintenance states little about actual motorcycle maintenance, but does have a few tips in that area. It rather focuses on Robert himself and what some may consider a slip into madness. This “madness” is what made me consider the constructs of language and how we are shaped, imprisoned, freed, and defined by it along with other social constructs we otherwise do not see because we are accustomed to them.

The best analogy I can come up with right now to explain this is ‘air’. We do not think about air. We constantly breath and bring it inside our chests where exchanges happen that allow us to continue living. We depend upon. We cannot live independently from it. When you really start to think about it and examine what it is and how it impacts us as people/living beings, you start to realize different aspects about it that you originally didn’t care to know or never experienced. Many people probably don’t realize the actual composition of air (mostly nitrogen, but of course contains the oxygen we thrive upon, and many other elements). The closer you look at it, the more it consumes your vision. There is a lot to learn.

But it is also not necessary information, right? We don’t need to understand ‘air’ to continue living, nor can we live “better” lives by knowing more about it. It is more of a reflection on how it affects us and how it is a part of us. This is really the best way I can describe what this book does. It brings some things into focus as if they were hiding behind a thin veil of reality. A solid thought for you to juggle with.

You’ll take away from this book what you put into it. Cliché, I know, but true. It is definitely easier to read than most philosophical books, but (like other philosophical books) this one may not be an easy read for many people. However, I do think it is worth the read, which is why I’m recommending it.

Robert M. Pirsig died last year on April 27th, 2017. His words have inspired millions and will continue to do so. Maybe they will provide you with a different way of looking at the world.

Happy Reading.

A Moveable Feast

A Moveable FeastThis week’s book recommendation is A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. This may be a book that is more interesting for writers or historians, but I think it’s an interesting read. The book is a memoir of Hemingway’s time in Paris. It was published in 1964, three years after his death in 1961. A “Restored Edition” was published back in 2010 and includes several sketches by Hemingway he made during that time along with other materials not found in the original publication.

Hemingway isn’t a colossal figure in my eyes as he is for many others. I’ll admit I’ve only read a few of his books, this being one of them, and several short stories (my favorite probably being “Hills Like White Elephants”). I understand why people like him and why he is such a figure in the literary world, but he didn’t instill a desire to devour everything he ever wrote that many claim to experience. I’ve experienced that feeling with other writers though. We all have our own tastes.

So why am I recommending this book? Because I like it. Simple as that. I like the truth of it. It’s a memoir, not a fiction. It details his life while in Paris and life was a lot different in the 1920’s than it is today, almost 100 years later (yeah, we aren’t too far away from 2020). Memoirs and biographies are like glimpses into the past where the world is the same but of course strangely different. I really enjoyed the final few chapters because they bring in F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two of them were good friends and there is a scene with Fitzgerald’s car breaking down that stuck with me because it would be considered absurd today. Maybe it was the sign of the times. Maybe people trusted each other a bit more back then (probably), or maybe it was the carelessness of these two writers with their lives outside of their written work. Who knows?

If you are interested in Hemingway, writing, or history, you’ll probably enjoy this book. Even if you don’t care for any of those things, you may still like it. If this book is outside of your comfort bubble of interest, try it anyway, or scroll to the top of the page and look at my other recommendations.

Happy Reading.