THE BOY GENIUS AND THE MOGUL: The Untold Story of Television

Daniel Stashower, Author . Random House $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7679-0759-0

The book jacket asserts that it will tell the story of television's "real" inventor, Philo T. Farnsworth, a 14-year-old Idaho farm boy. It's a clever—and accurate—hook, since no one inventor can take credit for the magic black box. What makes Farnsworth unique—aside from an intuitive leap while mowing a hayfield in 1922—is that he outlasted everyone else in his patent battle against RCA's David Sarnoff, who famously said, "RCA doesn't pay royalties. It collects them." Sarnoff makes a good foil: both men struggled up from poverty, Sarnoff by climbing the corporate ladder and Farnsworth by convincing financial backers to fund his research. Unfortunately for Farnsworth, "the era of the solitary inventor was quickly fading." Large, well-funded corporate laboratories were taking their place in the 1930s and reducing the inventor to a contract engineer. Stashower, a journalist and Edgar Award–winning biographer (for Teller of Tales), is also the author of three murder mysteries. He ends every chapter with a cliffhanger, which gets monotonous. However, his flair for storytelling does help move the book along through the necessary passages of technical jargon. Instilled with the glories of Edison, Ford and Gates, the public still romanticizes the genius in the attic, while recognizing that the spoils generally go to the rich and powerful. Agent, Donald Maass. (On sale Apr. 9)

Forecast:This is the first mainstream book on such a big topic—it beats Evan I. Schwartz's The Last Lone Inventor: A Tale of Genius, Deceit, and the Birth of Television (HarperCollins) by one month. Look for the review of Schwartz's book in Forecasts next month. The nearly simultaneous publication of both books guarantees attention, but could stunt each of their sales possiblities.

Reviewed on: 03/11/2002
Release date: 04/01/2002
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