Bolt of Fate: Benjamin Franklin and His Electric Kite Hoax

Bolt of Fate: Benjamin Franklin and His Electric Kite Hoax

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by Tommy N. Tucker
     
 

"Nearly every schoolchild in America knows that Benjamin Franklin flew a kite during a thunderstorm in the summer of 1752. The kite conducted electricity and threw a spark from a key that Franklin had attached to the kite's string. He thereby proved that lightning and electricity were one." "What many of us do not realize is that Franklin used this breakthrough in the… See more details below

Overview

"Nearly every schoolchild in America knows that Benjamin Franklin flew a kite during a thunderstorm in the summer of 1752. The kite conducted electricity and threw a spark from a key that Franklin had attached to the kite's string. He thereby proved that lightning and electricity were one." "What many of us do not realize is that Franklin used this breakthrough in the intensely competitive field of electrical science to embarrass his French and English rivals. Electrical science was the hot science of his day. Experiments were both parlor tricks and serious investigations while advances, rivalries, and speculations were followed in the popular press as well as the journals of the most distinguished scientific societies." "In Bolt of Fate, Tom Tucker revisits the scientific scene of the mid-eighteenth century, a jostling experimental arena that attracted philosophers, aristocrats, celebrated beauties, wheeler-dealers, and social climbers. He introduces the reader to England's William Watson and Joseph Priestly, France's Buffon and the Abbe Nollet. Russia's doomed Georg Rikhman, and the genius Franklin who thought further and with more clarity than the competition and who could not resist any opportunity to tweak a rival's pride. Tucker illuminates the questions and issues then being explored in this sometimes playful science and shows how these fascinating men and their cutting-edge pursuit created the world we live in today." "Franklin's kite experiment was an international event and the Franklin that it presented to the world - a homespun, rural philosopher-scientist performing an immensely important and dangerous experiment with a child's toy - became the Franklin of myth. In fact, this very deliberate presentation on Franklin's part so charmed the French that he became an irresistible celebrity when he traveled there during the American Revolution. It was the crowds and the journalists, and the ladies, who cajoled the French powers into joining us in our fig

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Editorial Reviews

Booklist
[Tucker's] portrayal of Franklin as a publicity hound who frequently fudged the truth has the ring of truth.
Forbes
Tucker, though, is to be congratulated for having launched a spirited, well-researched assault [on Franklin].
July 7, 2003
New Yorker
Tucker's argument touches on... who Franklin was, who we want him to be, and who he might have been.
June 30, 2003
The New Scientist
a pacy tale of media-grabbing deceit, which also finds a way to remain respectful to its subject.
June 28, 2003
U.S. News & World Report
Tucker reveals that Franklin never himself conducted the famous kite experiment he conceived.
June 23, 2003
Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
According to Tucker, who writes on the history of invention, Benjamin Franklin's "multifaceted genius" had a hidden side: "He was also a splendid master of the hoax." And, notes Tucker, Franklin had reason to perpetrate a hoax on the scientific establishment, then embodied in Britain's Royal Society, where the colonial printer was not taken seriously as a scientist. Franklin's legendary electric kite experiment, Tucker asserts, was a myth propagated by Franklin himself that had repercussions even for the Revolution: the British feared that Franklin had created an electric superweapon that, in the words of Franklin's contemporary, Horace Walpole, "would reduce St. Paul's to a handful of ashes." Tucker bases his hoax theory on a reading of primary sources. A Franklin revival seems to be underway, and readers may want to read this heterodox study along with more general portraits of the man, such as Edmund Morgan's recent Benjamin Franklin and Walter Isaacson's forthcoming biography, due out in July. Illus. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781891620706
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
05/29/2003
Edition description:
1st.
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
9.80(w) x 2.88(h) x 1.10(d)

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