Everyone knows Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone, but Charlotte Gray’s book, “Reluctant Genius” reveals much more about him.
Among the greatest American inventors, Bell is contrasted with Thomas Edison for his modesty and his insistence on perfecting his advancements before promoting them prematurely in order to gain a commercial advantage. Indeed, without the legal work of his father-in-law, Gardiner Hubbard, he would surely not have received and retained the patents that supported him and his family throughout their lives.
Bell enjoyed a remarkable love affair with his wife Mabel, a “warm-hearted, clever woman” who devoted herself to her “brilliantly intuitive” but often “demanding and insensitive” husband and allowed him the freedom to pursue his ideas.
Bell’s creative impulses continued throughout his life and he was granted a total of 31 patents—13 relating to the “electric speaking telephone” and 18 more for:
- the photophone, which transmitted sound via reflected light
- the graphophone, for recording sounds from phonograph records
- a tetrahedral aerial vehicle
- a flying machine, and
- a hydrodome (hydrofoil), which for over a decade was the world’s fastest boat
Bell said, “An inventor is a man who looks around the world and is not content with things the way they are; he wants to improve what he sees; he wants to benefit the world.”