cover image Edison’s Ghosts: The Untold Weirdness of History’s Greatest Geniuses

Edison’s Ghosts: The Untold Weirdness of History’s Greatest Geniuses

Katie Spalding. Little, Brown, $29 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-52952-5

Mathematician Spalding takes some of history’s most lauded savants down a notch in this gut-busting survey. Combining solid academic research with bawdy humor, Spalding portrays each so-called “genius” in a series of embarrassing vignettes, such as the time Napoleon Bonaparte’s chief of staff released thousands of tame rabbits into a field for a celebratory hunt. Instead of fleeing from Napoleon and his generals, the rabbits “hopp[ed] merrily towards them.... Hoping for some snuggles and snacks” and eventually causing the hunters to “beat a hasty retreat.” Elsewhere, Spalding ascribes Sigmund Freud’s conviction that “the universe was sending him messages through the appearance of various numbers” to his prolific cocaine habit, notes that enthusiastic sailor Albert Einstein’s inability to swim or sail proficiently required rescuers to continually fish him out of the water along the northeastern seaboard, recounts how Benjamin Franklin pranked his dinner guests by electrifying their wine glasses, and details Thomas Edison’s plans for a “spirit phone” that could allow people to communicate with the dead. Full of jaw-dropping anecdotes and valuable history lessons, this is a delight. (May)