Short listed for the Orange Prize 2009
The Invention of Everything Else aims to familiarise us with the forgotten scientist, Nikola Tesla. Tesla is an intriguing character, who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, but has moments of genius in which he invents revolutionary advances in electrical engineering. The book also focuses on Louisa, a curious chambermaid, who discovers Tesla’s notes in the hotel where she works. They form a curious relationship through their interest in pigeons!
I’m afraid I didn’t connect with this book at all. As a chemistry graduate I was interested to read about this unusual scientist’s life, but I think the fact I am quite knowledgeable in this field was one of the main factors in my dislike for it. I felt I was being patronised a lot of the time by the frequent over-simplified explanations of Tesla’s discoveries. To highlight this I thought I’d pick out a quote on an object we are all familiar with:
If that quote didn’t irritate you, then you are probably OK to read this book, but be aware that the workings of many things are explained in the book, something I found very tedious.
The book gets more complex as it continues, and is difficult to follow at times. It flips back and forth between various points in Tesla’s life, as he meets many eminent scientists. There were also a few very strange pieces of writing in here, the most bizarre being a list of 72 things beginning with the letter S. I know that passages like this are supposed to highlight Tesla’s OCD behaviour, but I found them a bit odd. There were a few great pieces of writing in this book, but I sometimes felt that Samantha Hunt was trying too hard to add certain literary elements to the book at the expense of plot. Perhaps I’m wrong though – it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, so some people obviously love it.
Overall, I’m afraid that the book did more to annoy me than entertain, and though it was clearly very well researched, I think that the more scientific your knowledge, the more you will dislike this book.
Recommended to people who love literary fiction, but know nothing about electrical engineering!
Have you read this book? What did you think?
Does this have your vote for the Orange Prize this year?
Can you recommend any good fiction with scientific content?