Benjamin Franklin's Science

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Overview

Benjamin Franklin is well known to most of us, yet his fundamental and wide--ranging contributions to science are still not adequately understood. Until now he has usually been incorrectly regarded as a practical inventor and tinkerer rather than a scientific thinker. He was elected to membership in the elite Royal Society because his experiments and original theory of electricity had made a science of that new subject. His popular lame came from his two lightning experiments the sentry--box experiment and the later and more famous experiment of the kite--which confirmed his theoretical speculations about the identity of electricity and provided a basis for the practical invention of the lightning rod. Franklin advanced the eighteenth-century understanding of all phenomena of electricity and provided a model for experimental science in general.

I. Bernard Cohen, an eminent historian of science and the principal elucidator of Franklin's scientific work, examines his activities in fields ranging from heat to astronomy. He provides masterful accounts of the theoretical background of Franklin's science (especially his study of Newton), the experiments he performed, and their influence throughout Europe as well as the United States. Cohen emphasizes that Franklin's political and diplomatic career cannot be understood apart from his scientific activities, which established his reputation and brought him into contact with leaders of British and European society. A supplement by Samuel J. Edgerton considers Franklin's attempts to improve the design of heating stoves, another practical application that arose from theoretical interests.

This volume will be valuable to all readers wanting to learn more about Franklin and to gain a deeper appreciation of the development of science in America.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Cohen (history of science, Harvard) reveals the important theoretical side to Franklin's scientific work. He traces his study, especially of Newton, and examines the theoretical basis of his electricity experiments, noting that Franklin's success as a diplomat was due to his fame as a scientist among the European elite. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Journal of American History

Cohen provides not only a lucid analysis of Franklin's ideas but also a sense of the intellectual context...Cohen's position as a leading historian of American science has found eloquent expression in this engaging and valuable book.
— Simon Baatz

Bloomsbury Review

Reminds us that being the New World's foremost scientist was no easy task. The inventor of the lightning rod had to contend with a superstitious age...Resisting the urge of many scholars to allow their specialties to distort the subject, Cohen shows us Franklin's science as related to the other characteristics of a cheerily curious mind at work in yeasty times.
— Peter Wild

Journal of American History - Simon Baatz
Cohen provides not only a lucid analysis of Franklin's ideas but also a sense of the intellectual context...Cohen's position as a leading historian of American science has found eloquent expression in this engaging and valuable book.
Bloomsbury Review - Peter Wild
Reminds us that being the New World's foremost scientist was no easy task. The inventor of the lightning rod had to contend with a superstitious age...Resisting the urge of many scholars to allow their specialties to distort the subject, Cohen shows us Franklin's science as related to the other characteristics of a cheerily curious mind at work in yeasty times.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674066588
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1990
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.49 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

I. Bernard Cohen, Victor S. Thomas Professor of the History of Science, Emeritus, at Harvard University, is one of the founders of the modern study of the history of science.
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Table of Contents

Foreword by Brooke Hindle

Preface

Introduction

Franklin's Scientific Style

How Practical Was Franklin's Science?

The Mysterious "Dr. Spence"

Collinson's Gift and the New German Experiments

The Kite, the Sentry Box, and the Lightning Rod

Father Divi and the First European Lightning Rod (with Robert Schofield)

Prejudice against the Introduction of Lightning Rods

Heat and Color

The Pennsylvania Hospital

The Transit of Mercury

Faraday and the "Newborn Baby"

Supplement: The Franklin Stove (Samuel J. Edgerton, Jr.)

Notes

Index

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