The First Scientific American: Benjamin Franklin and the Pursuit of Genius

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9780465009558: The First Scientific American: Benjamin Franklin and the Pursuit of Genius

Famous, fascinating Benjamin Franklin--he would be neither without his accomplishments in science. Joyce Chaplin's authoritative biography considers all of Franklin's work in the sciences, showing how, during the rise and fall of the first British empire, science became central to public culture and therefore to Franklin's success. Having demonstrated in his earliest experiments and observations that he could master nature, Franklin showed the world that he was uniquely suited to solve problems in every realm. In the famous adage, Franklin "snatched lightning from the sky and the scepter from the tyrants"--in that order. The famous kite and other experiments with electricity were only part of Franklin's accomplishments. He charted the Gulf Stream, made important observations on meteorology, and used the burgeoning science of "political arithmetic" to make unprecedented statements about America's power. Even as he stepped onto the world stage as an illustrious statesman and diplomat in the years leading up to the American Revolution, his fascination with nature was unrelenting. Franklin was the first American whose "genius" for science qualified him as a genius in political affairs. It is only through understanding Franklin's full engagement with the sciences that we can understand this great Founding Father and the world he shaped.

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About the Author:

Joyce E. Chaplin is Professor of History at Harvard University. She is the author of two academic books: An Anxious Pursuit and Subject Matter . She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

From Publishers Weekly:

Is there room for yet another Franklin biography on already crowded shelves? Chaplin, a Harvard historian of science, keeps the subject fresh by narrowing her focus almost exclusively to Franklin's scientific career. It was the pursuit of "natural philosophy," including his early experiments on the properties of electricity, that made Franklin a celebrity in Europe, and Chaplin shows how he crafted his public image as a scientist to transform himself from a humble colonial tradesman into a sophisticated gentleman of letters. In her estimation, Franklin's forays into politics on behalf of the American colonies prevented him from pursuing further research that might have led to discoveries as revolutionary as those of Isaac Newton. She's careful, though, to point out that much of Franklin's science would be unrecognizable as such to us today; he was a proponent, for example, of the "argument from design" that underpins modern creationism. If you've read any of the other Franklin bios, Chaplin won't radically alter your perspective, but for those with only vague notions about his role as a founding father and particularly his importance as a scientist, her emphasis can be eye-opening. (Apr. 17)
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