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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