The best books on inventors

Richard Munson Author Of Tesla: Inventor of the Modern
By Richard Munson

The Books I Picked & Why

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

By Benjamin Franklin

Book cover of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Why this book?

When I think of Benjamin Franklin, I picture the chubby founding father pictured on a hundred-dollar bill or the crazy kite-flyer amid a thunderstorm. Yet this polymath’s witty and engaging memoir surprised me with the breadth of his science, including basic insights into electricity, heat, ocean currents, and molecules. How can you not like this curious and industrious innovator who also protected us from lightning and cold?


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The Wright Brothers

By David McCullough

Book cover of The Wright Brothers

Why this book?

Every time I get on an airplane, I’m still blown away by our ability to fly like a bird. I had known little about the two brothers from Dayton, Ohio, who – despite no formal educations, money, and connections -- allowed us to soar. Particularly enjoyable were engaging stories of Wilbur and Orville’s childhood and family, their studies of birds, and their early work on bicycles and toy helicopters.


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Edison

By Edmund Morris

Book cover of Edison

Why this book?

Researching my Tesla biography forced me to reexamine Thomas Edison, who was Tesla’s opposite in many ways. Revealing different approaches to inventing, for instance, Edison’s trial-and-error approach contrasted with Tesla’s cerebral engineering. I was struck by how the two inventors competed, ferociously at times, yet how they could be kind to each other – with Edison offering Tesla his laboratory when his own burned down, and Tesla, who once worked for the Wizard of Menlo Park, regularly asking about Edison’s children. I liked Edmund Morris’ exposing Edison’s warts but also applauding the 1,093 patents that resulted from his “teeming brain and ever-mobile hands.”


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They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators

By Harold Evans

Book cover of They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators

Why this book?

Fascinated by innovations, I’m drawn to these concise profiles that span two centuries, moving from the steam engine to the search engine. Continuing the theme of electricity, my favorite story is of Samuel Insull, who served for a time as Thomas Edison’s secretary. He created a business model—a utility monopoly—that brought cheap and drudgery-reducing electricity to millions, yet his corporate pyramids collapsed in the Great Depression, leaving millions of investors penniless. What a grand arc – from being the most powerful modernizer of the 1920s became the most notorious business villain of the 1930s.


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Steve Jobs

By Walter Isaacson

Book cover of Steve Jobs

Why this book?

I had to enjoy a biography that revealed a subject’s character by listing his iPhone music playlist. That fact gives you a sense of this book’s detail, from every product release to every girlfriend. I particularly enjoyed making the connection between Tesla and Jobs, who “a genius at connecting art to technology, of making leaps based on intuition and imagination,” made real Tesla’s vision for a device—which “a man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket”—that allows us to “communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance.”


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