An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment

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Overview

An Entertainment for Angels, rather than for Men, one observer called electricity, and it proved to be the most significant scientific discovery of the Enlightenment. Lecturers attracted huge audiences who marveled at sparkling fountains, flaming drinks, pirouetting dancers, and electrified boys. Flamboyant experimenters made chains of soldiers leap into the air, while wealthy women titillated their admirers with a sensational electric kiss. Optimists predicted that this strange power of nature would cure illnesses, improve crop production, even bring the dead back to life. An Entertainment for Angels tells the story of how electricity charged the eighteenth-century imagination. With contemporary illustrations and engaging prose, Patricia Fara vividly portrays the struggles to understand the unusual and exciting effects that electrical experiments were producing.

One of the heroes of the story is Benjamin Franklin, renowned on both sides of the Atlantic as an expert on electricity, who introduced lightning rods to protect tall buildings, pioneered techniques to treat paralyzed patients, and developed one of the most successful explanations of this mysterious phenomenon. Others include Luigi Galvani, whose electrical research on frogs and animals makes for grisly reading but led to the discovery of direct current electricity; and Alessandro Volta, who -- with Napoleon's enthusiastic support -- became one of Europe's leading scientific practitioners and invented the world's first battery.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Times Higher Education Supplement

Fara entertainingly describes how experimenters caught the public imagination.... Combines telling anecdote with wise commentary.

Booklist

Myths of the modern era rarely withstand inspection, and Benjamin Franklin's supposed discovery of electricity via the famed kite experiment is no exception... Fara's concise history reveals how complicated and groping scientific progress has been.

Choice

History of science writer Fara tells the story of how new discoveries in electricity helped spark the imagination of Enlightenment inventors.... Well illustrated; numerous references. Recommended [for] general readers.

The Guardian

Neat and stylish.

ISIS
Fara's writing talents shine in her original and sparkling approach to eighteenth century electricity.

— Marjorie C. Malley

Time Magazines Higher Education Supplement
Fara entertainingly describes how experimenters caught the public imagination.... Combines telling anecdote with wise commentary.
ISIS - Marjorie C. Malley

Fara's writing talents shine in her original and sparkling approach to eighteenth century electricity.

Choice

History of science writer Fara tells the story of how new discoveries in electricity helped spark the imagination of Enlightenment inventors.... Well illustrated; numerous references. Recommended [for] general readers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231131483
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 9/24/2003
  • Series: Revolutions in Science Series
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 4.60 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Fara is a Fellow of Clare College at the University of Cambridge. Her most recent book is Newton: The Making of Genius.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

List of IllustrationsIntroductionIlluminations: The Light of ReasonInterpretationsElectricity and EnlightenmentShocking Inventions: InstrumentsRobert Boyle and the Air-pumpFrancis Hauksbee and the Electrical MachineStephen Gray and the Charity BoyPieter van Musschenbroek and the Leyden JarLightning Cures: ApplicationsBenjamin FranklinKnobs or Points?The Business of MedicineTherapeutic ShocksSparks of Imagination: TheoriesProblemsFluids and AtmospheresTheological AethersMeasurement and MathematicsThe Flow of Life: Current ElectricityHenry Cavendish and the TorpedoLuigi Galvani and his FrogsAlessandro Volta and his PileResuscitationFurther ReadingNotes

Columbia University Press

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