Dangerous Engine: Benjamin Franklin, from Scientist to Diplomat

Dangerous Engine: Benjamin Franklin, from Scientist to Diplomat

by Joan Dash

At the time of his famous kite experiment, Benjamin Franklin was unaware that his theories about electricity had already made him a celebrity all over Europe, especially in France, where fashionable circles loved to discuss scientific discovery. Admired by the French court and beloved by French citizens, Franklin effectively became America’s first foreign


At the time of his famous kite experiment, Benjamin Franklin was unaware that his theories about electricity had already made him a celebrity all over Europe, especially in France, where fashionable circles loved to discuss scientific discovery. Admired by the French court and beloved by French citizens, Franklin effectively became America’s first foreign diplomat, later helping to enlist France’s military and financial support for the American Revolution. A father of the revolution and a signer of the Constitution, Franklin was a lightning rod in political circles – “a dangerous Engine,” according to a critic. And although he devoted the last twenty-five years of his life to affairs of state, his first love was always science. Handsome pen-and-ink drawings highlight moments in this revolutionary thinker’s life.

From the author and illustrator of The Longitude Prize, a Robert F. Sibert Honor Book and winner of the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award, comes another story of adventure and invention, of one man’s curiosity and the extraordinary rewards of his discoveries, just in time to celebrate the 300th anniversary of his birth (January 17, 1706).

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publishers Weekly
In this uneven biography, Dash (The Longitude Prize; We Shall Not Be Moved) explores Benjamin Franklin's evolution from scientist to diplomat before and during the Revolutionary War. The chapters devoted to science prove the most compelling, as Dash describes his impact as a scientist, from his invention of the bifocals, to his famous kite experiment with electricity to his "sentry-box" experiment (an early version of the lightning rod), which he described in a letter to the Royal Society and made him famous throughout Europe. Though science interested him most, Franklin gravitated more towards politics, first in Britain and then as the person most responsible for France's support of the American Revolution. ("The reason seems to have been his deep-seated belief that science was a pleasure, a luxury, while public life, especially in difficult times, was far more important than the desires of one individual," Dash asserts). Britain's ambassador to France, Lord Sturmont, was understandably mistrustful: "I look upon [Franklin] as a dangerous Engine." However, the section focused on this political period lacks the spark of the earlier section about his scientific endeavours, and often seems to meander. The insightful, sometimes whimsical and worldly illustrations by Petricic capture the spirit of the man and the times. But ultimately, the text never quite adds up to a clear portrait of Franklin, his interests and his beliefs. Ages 10-up. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
For eighty-four years the mind of Benjamin Franklin operated like a vital engine continuously searching for information. A pioneering scientist, inventor, author, and diplomat Benjamin Franklin led an exceptionally productive life. Yet, despite the many accomplishments that Franklin achieved he also demonstrated human frailties in relationships and life. Joan Dash does a splendid job of chronicling the life and times of this brilliant and irreverent American. She does a particularly fine job of capturing the personality of Benjamin Franklin--he comes alive in all his strengths and weaknesses. Readers will meet a man who certainly combined great intelligence with a practical mindset. Franklin was a man who knew how to enjoy life's rewards, while also tirelessly working in pursuit of knowledge that often gave him no financial return. Franklin was also a man who made enemies. For example, John Adams who served with Franklin overseas respected his intelligence but loathed his moral conduct. Also, Franklin showed an unforgiving side in terms of his rapport with his only son William, whom he disavowed after a parting of the ways during the Revolutionary War. This biography is a well written and thoughtful look at the life of an uncommon American. The enjoyable narrative is augmented by Dusan Petricic's lighthearted illustrations. This is a solid biography and one that youngsters interested in science or American history will find useful. 2006, Farrar Strauss Giroux, Ages 12 up.
—Greg M. Romaneck
School Library Journal - School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up-Franklin's long, productive, and interesting life is vividly recounted in a lively manner. Familiar aspects are covered, from his days as a printer in Philadelphia to his diplomatic service and his role in the development of the fledgling United States democracy. What may be new to some readers is Franklin's dedication to, and lifelong love of, science and invention. Dash discusses his interest in electricity and describes the experiments and pranks that he and his fellow "Franklinists" performed. On his many overseas voyages, Franklin carefully observed ocean life and measured the Gulf Stream. He invented a stove, a lightning rod, bifocals, and a "glass armonica" and carried on a spirited transatlantic correspondence with scientists in Europe. The author also explains the difficulty Franklin had with his son, who was a Loyalist during the Revolutionary War, as well as his fall from favor with members of Congress. Witty pen-and-ink illustrations appear throughout. Pair this book with Candace Fleming's Ben Franklin's Almanac (Atheneum, 2003). It will enrich the reading experience with its collection of period reproductions, facsimiles of newspapers and books, and primary-source material. Libraries owning James Cross Giblin's The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin (Scholastic, 2000) will still want A Dangerous Engine, which is for a slightly older audience.- Jennifer Ralston, Harford County Public Library, Belcamp, MD Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Dash ably covers Franklin's life from first days to last, but what sets this apart from the plethora of similar portraits is her particular focus on his lifelong interest in science and invention. Ever the amateur, he gathered a group of like-minded "Franklinists" to perform electrical experiments and pranks, like electrifying the iron fence around his house, "for the amusement of visitors," writes Dash. He took measurements of the Gulf Stream, closely observed natural phenomena on land and sea, fiddled with magic squares and corresponded regularly with many fellow enquirers on both sides of the Atlantic-along with inventing (though deliberately never patenting) a stove, the lightning rod, bifocals, the "glass armonica" and much else. Characterizing Franklin as a "speckled" man, who "changed, took up new roles, found new motives within himself" over his long career, Dash also recounts his later diplomatic triumphs in full, without glossing over his youthful misadventures or occasional lack of candor. Readers will come away with a profound understanding of this great man's mind, heart, achievements and-with some help from Petricic's witty line drawings-sense of fun. (annotated bibliography, end notes) (Biography. 12+)

Product Details

DIANE Publishing Company
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Meet the Author

JOAN DASH is the author of several notable books for young readers. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Dušan Petricic illustrated many acclaimed children’s books. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

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