Nikola Tesla has experienced a mythic resurrection in modern fiction. Both Christopher Priest's sci-fi novel The Prestige and Matt Fraction's comic book The Five Fists of Science cast him as a God of Technology, capable of building wondrous teleportation devices and giant robots. The Invention of Everything Else features Tesla as a lonely, wizened man, living in a state-of-the-art hotel in 1943 at the end of his life. Though still powered by a dynamic imagination, Invention's Tesla is thankfully more human, prone to frailties like relationships and regrets.
Louisa, a young chambermaid, tries to befriend Tesla. At the same time, she falls in love with a young man, and her father desperately tries to construct a time machine. The real joy of this book is Hunt's language, which is as ebullient and as excitable as Tesla's love for science. A fat man takes a bite from "an overwrought, exploding sandwich" and Tesla credits his ability to memorize anything to his mother: She "taught me how to trick words to climb in through my eyeballs or ears where they'd fall down, as if into a mineshaft. There was no way out." It's a kind of ecstatic magical realism, where the raw ugliness of science smashes into the beautiful tricks that the mind plays on itself: An overheard conversation in a hotel hallway begins, "The poor child was born with her legs fused together and her mother didn't want to have them separated, thought she'd given birth to a mermaid." The magic of Invention is its ability to find miracles everywhere. PAUL CONSTANT
Memo to the President Elect
by Madeleine Albright
For whom, exactly, is this book written? Certainly not for the president elect, as the title and the awkward second-person voice claims. The information is too borderline moronic. I'd be worried if any president had to be told "Your press secretary will be among the most prominent and visible members of your team," or, "Prior to meeting with [the general secretary of China] you will receive conflicting advice about what issues should top the agenda." And by the time November rolls around and we'll have a president elect, half the facts—Fidel Castro being the president of Cuba, for instance—will be completely wrong.
So is it written for the general public? Not really. There are much better general-interest books about the state of the Middle East, and, anyway, newspapers and magazines are much better at covering the region, where sometimes more can change in a week than we're used to happening in a year here in America. Albright's kicks at George W. Bush (referred to as "your predecessor") are too polite to be entertaining and too generic to be insightful. The chapter on China basically boils down to "China is going to be difficult to deal with." It's too generic for anybody who cares about geopolitics and too prim for anybody with prurient political tastes. It must be written, then, for the hardcore Madeleine Albright fans—a group that, when you include Albright, must number in the very high teens.