Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy (Book Review)

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Images credit Clean Break

Tyler Hamilton has been writing about green tech for the Toronto Star for six years, and is a regular source of stories on TreeHugger. Hamilton first became fascinated with Nikola Tesla while writing a story about Marconi, the so-called "Father of Radio." Except he wasn't; Tesla was, beating Marconi by 5 years. In fact the list of Tesla's accomplishments is lengthy and impressive, but he was his own worst enemy when it came to his work, and was considered by many to be crazy. He spent his last years with his only friend, a pigeon.

Mad Like Tesla: Underdog Inventors and their Relentless Pursuit of Clean Energy is Hamilton's tribute to modern scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs who, like Tesla, keep trying to change the world, despite "scientific groupthink, bad timing, entrenced corporate interests, misplaced public fear, gaps in available technology, high cost, resource scarcity, personality clashes, lack of financing, resistance to change, complacency, competitive rivalry, misguided policy, lack of vision, and general ignorance." They include:

Michel Laberge, who is trying to build a nuclear fusion reactor on the cheap;
Gary Spirnak, who wants to put a giant solar collector in space and beam microwave power back to earth, seen in TreeHugger: Solar from Space? PG&E; Agrees to Buy Power from Satellites
Louis Michaud, who is trying to capture the energy of tornados;
Jay Harman, who is obsessed with biomimicry; seen in TreeHugger at PaxFan: An Effective Spiral Fan, Biomimicry Revolutionizes the Movement of Air and Water
Paul Woods, who is milking algae for ethanol, seen in TreeHugger at Algenol's Algae-to-Ethanol Delivers 67% to 87% Reduction in CO2
Dick Weir of eeStor, who I first heard about from Tyler Hamilton's Clean Break column in 2006 and who has been a fixture on TreeHugger ever since;
And finally, Thane Heins, who is building, really, a perpetual motion machine.

I think some of these people really are crazy like Tesla, oddball geniuses with great ideas. But others may really simply be crazy. As the dust jacket says, "many great inventions were once doubted, dismissed, and ridiculed- only to emerge triumphant." Tyler Hamilton is not incredulous, but he recognizes that journalists often attract promoters and scammers without necessarily having the ability to tell the real from the ridiculous. Then he concludes that when faced "with sprited determination and that boldness of ignorance, I am prepared to be surprised. Are you?"

After writing about this kind of stuff for a couple of years, one can become jaded and cynical about every inventor of a car that runs on water or whatever. How refreshing to read a book by a writer who knows his stuff, appreciates what he is looking at, and still has the positive enthusiasm of a little kid. Many science and technology writers could learn a lot from Tyler Hamilton.

More on the book at Mad Like Tesla.
More on Tyler Hamilton in TreeHugger
EEStor Capacitors- "This could change everything"
Talking Volts with GM's Bob Lutz
Warming Warning: Hell and High Water
Canadian Water in Corn-based Bottles
Jeff Rubin On How Shale Oil Might Be Like Sub-Prime Mortgages
Nobody Wants to Pay the Price of Going Green

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