Is there room for yet another Franklin biography on already crowded shelves? Chaplin, a Harvard historian of science, keeps the subject fresh by narrowing her focus almost exclusively to Franklin's scientific career. It was the pursuit of "natural philosophy," including his early experiments on the properties of electricity, that made Franklin a celebrity in Europe, and Chaplin shows how he crafted his public image as a scientist to transform himself from a humble colonial tradesman into a sophisticated gentleman of letters. In her estimation, Franklin's forays into politics on behalf of the American colonies prevented him from pursuing further research that might have led to discoveries as revolutionary as those of Isaac Newton. She's careful, though, to point out that much of Franklin's science would be unrecognizable as such to us today; he was a proponent, for example, of the "argument from design" that underpins modern creationism. If you've read any of the other Franklin bios, Chaplin won't radically alter your perspective, but for those with only vague notions about his role as a founding father and particularly his importance as a scientist, her emphasis can be eye-opening. (Apr. 17) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Founding Father Benjamin Franklin's scientific genius, so often ignored today, gave him access to the corridors of diplomacy for which he is now renowned. Chaplin (history, Harvard Univ.; An Anxious Pursuit: Agricultural Innovation and Modernity in the Lower South, 1730-1815) notes that Franklin was the first person to become an international celebrity because of his work in the physical sciences (Albert Einstein was similarly lionized some 250 years later). In describing Franklin's scientific path, Chaplin, who has previously published scholarly works on science and technology in Colonial North America, captures the impact of Franklin's gifts on the development of his country's intellectual infrastructure. Franklin's knowledge, social and observational skills, and energy enabled him to complete projects ranging from the charting of the Gulf Stream current to the invention of a currency that resisted counterfeiting to the unveiling of the nature of electricity. This is a well-written, extensively footnoted, and finely illustrated biography. Because of the focus on Franklin's scientific life, it will add a new perspective to the body of myths that surrounds the great man in this tercentennial year of his birth. Recommended for all public and academic libraries.-Sara Rutter, Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa Lib., Honolulu Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.