Hunt's frequent descriptions of Tesla's distinct physicality (he was quite tall and looked every bit the mad scientist he was made out to be) feed off one another, building Tesla into the figure Hunt clearly believes deserved to be more treasured than he was: "a gorgeous switchblade," he's "[a] stooped, slightly disheveled man wearing a haunted suit, a ghost with cheeks sucked in tight to the bone," and "an elegant, tired grasshopper." In the eager but worrisome Louisa, Hunt creates an ideal audience surrogate: surrounded by eccentrics, Louisa's Veronica Mars-ish blend of curiosity and cynicism keeps Hunt's predilection toward whimsy in check.

And, by and large, Hunt's fondness for historical trivia enhances the novel's main thematic undercurrent, a resonant argument favoring free, open-source technology. Tesla's ideal is most explicitly discussed in his embittered memoirs, where he longs to bring "capitalists like [J.P.] Morgan to their knees," but it pervades the novel's more quiet moments, too; each bolt of lightning is energy unused, just like the currents moving through our bodies. Hunt's prose embodies the hyper-sensory, wonderstruck potential of Tesla's ideas ("Louisa is holding so fast that every muscle in her body feels like it is made of the most brittle quartz, rigid with alarm and excitement."). Chief among its many pleasures are that the first impulse you have after reading The Invention of Everything Else is to step outside, look around, and think about just what we're made of.

Christopher Gray can be reached at

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