The Invention of Everything Else – Samantha Hunt

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:

The bicycle. Yes. I saw it once before. A magnificent invention. So simple and so sensible to harness wheels onto our feet while we are walking. Allowing the laws of physics to magnify our efforts and energy…..That rider is exerting no more effort than we are, and indeed he might be exerting even less, as he has also enslaved momentum to his machine, creating energy from nothing but cleverness.

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?

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  1. Diane says:

    I had this one, and then donated to the library book sale unread. I just did not think I would care for it.

  2. Sandy says:

    Eh…think I’ll pass! I didn’t like that example passage so much, so that is probably a pretty good indication!

  3. Karen says:

    What I know about science I could probably write on the back of a postage stamp so maybe I would go ok reading this one! I first heard about Tesla when I read the novel Addition by Australian author Toni Jordan. The main character in this book loves and idolises him.

  4. Jackie says:

    Diane – Very generous of you! I hope it finds some people who love it!

    Sandy – I think you can gauge a lot from a few quotes. I know a few people who I think will love this book, but anyone with similar book taste to me should probably steer clear!

    Karen – I nearly read Addition last year, as it was one of Richard and Judy’s book club picks (TV show here in the UK) I think it was the only one in the list that I didn’t read, as I thought the OCD bit would annoy me. I didn’t realise it had mentions of Tesla in there. Did you enjoy Addition? I imagine there would be lots of similarities between these two books, but I don’t know – having not read Addition.

  5. I hate being patronised and since I read a lot of science I think I will take your advice. Tesla was a very interesting person though.

  6. Bellezza says:

    Um…I have to admit that the quote you picked was indeed irritating. I’m not normally a huge fan of nonfiction in the first place, but it is to my liking to pick up those nominated for awards. I think I’ll shy away from this one, however.

    Thanks for visiting me today, and a Happy Mother’s Day to you!

  7. raidergirl3 says:

    Hey, I was a Chemistry major too! but I teach high school physics now

    I would still consider the book, if it wasn’t too long.

    3M has a little science in fiction project going on here:

    if you want to check it out. Off the top of my head, I’m only thinking of nonfiction books that are good.

  8. Violet says:

    I just read a book called ‘The silent note’, it’s fiction, but Nikola Tesla was mentioned quite a few times in it. I remember wanting to google and check if this guy is real but somehow it slipped my mind.
    I am not sure if I would like this book but I might give it a try.

  9. Teddy says:

    It sounds like an interesting concept. Too bad it was a dis-connect.

  10. Jackie says:

    Candy – Yes, Tesla does sound really interesting – a bit mad though!!

    Bellezza – I’m not normally a bid fan of non-fiction, although I have read a few great ones recently. There is a lot of fiction in this book though. I’m looking forward to finding out what other people think of this book.

    raidergirl3 – Thank you for pointing out 3M’s challenge – I’ll have to go and take a look!

    Violet – I never realised there were so many books with Tesla in!

    Teddy – Yes, it sounds great on the back cover (apart from the pigeon bit!) Nevermind – they can’t all be great!

  11. Beth F says:

    Phew. I was slightly curious about this. Now I’ll happily pass it by.

  12. Karen says:

    I loved Addition Jackie! I didn’t find the OCD references annoying – I thought it was really well written to show why it was that the character was acting in this way (or why she felt compelled to act in this way). It’s a light easy read in many ways but in others it brings up some really big issues.

  13. Jackie says:

    Karen – Perhaps I’ll pick up Addition one day then – thanks for coming back to let me know.

  14. I haven’t read this yet, though it’s still on my list — I enjoy novels that are based partly on someone’s life or that try to get into that person’s world. You might want to read Janna Levin’s A MADMAN DREAMS OF TURING MACHINES, which is a very imaginative novel on the work of Alan Turing and Kurt Godel. I reviewed it at my blog:

    Thanks for your review!

  15. Jackie says:

    Mindy – Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog!
    I’ll go and have a look at your review – thanks for the recommendation!


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