Engineering & Society Chair Wins Unprecedented Two Sally Hacker Prizes

Professor W. Bernard Carlson, chair of the University of Virginia Department of Engineering and Society, has earned a Sally Hacker Prize and a William and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award for his book, “Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age.”

He is the only author to achieve two Sally Hacker Prizes since the Society for the History of Technology established the award in 1999 to honor exceptional scholarship appealing to a broad audience. Carlson first earned the award in 2008 for his book, “Technology in World History.”

The William and Joyce Middleton Electrical Engineering History Award is bestowed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers to an author for a book “that both exemplifies exceptional scholarship and reaches beyond academic communities toward a broad public audience.” Carlson is the inaugural recipient of the Middleton Award.

Eric P. Wenaas, of “IEEE Technology and Society Magazine,” wrote about Carlson’s book, “It is a very readable work and presents the whole picture of Tesla both as an electrical wizard and as a human being with all the associated foibles. I particularly liked the way Carlson interspersed the narrative with commentary on the inventive process, the role of illusion, and the social implications of his technologies on bringing about positive changes in society as a whole. If you wish to read a factual book about Tesla, this is the one.”

Princeton University Press, which published “Tesla,” summarized the book: “Nikola Tesla was a major contributor to the electrical revolution that transformed daily life at the turn of the twentieth century. His inventions, patents, and theoretical work formed the basis of modern AC electricity, and contributed to the development of radio and television. Like his competitor Thomas Edison, Tesla was one of America’s first celebrity scientists, enjoying the company of New York high society and dazzling the likes of Mark Twain with his electrical demonstrations. An astute self-promoter and gifted showman, he cultivated a public image of the eccentric genius. Even at the end of his life when he was living in poverty, Tesla still attracted reporters to his annual birthday interview, regaling them with claims that he had invented a particle-beam weapon capable of bringing down enemy aircraft.

Plenty of biographies glamorize Tesla and his eccentricities, but until now none has carefully examined what, how, and why he invented. In this groundbreaking book, W. Bernard Carlson demystifies the legendary inventor, placing him within the cultural and technological context of his time, and focusing on his inventions themselves as well as the creation and maintenance of his celebrity. “

“Tesla” has been translated into eight languages and has sold more than 45,000 copies. Maggie Fazeli Fard of The Washington Post said, “Carlson takes a historian’s approach to piecing together Tesla’s life. He resists the temptation to focus only on Tesla’s persona as an eccentric genius with a flair for drama. . . .  Instead, Carlson sets out to answer three questions: ‘How did Tesla invent? How did his inventions work? And what happened as he introduced his inventions?’”

Carlson’s accomplishments also include establishing a strong network for support for UVA students interested in entrepreneurship, and his efforts helped lead to the Faculty Senate’s approval last spring of a University-wide entrepreneurship minor.  READ MORE