An Entertainment for Angels

Patricia Fara

Read February 2006

The Englightenment was a heady time, peopled by personalities and ideas. Though we think of most of these ideas as social or political, the sciences were very much in ascendancy, and some of the most important personalities of the time, even those we associate primarily with literary (Goethe) and political (Jefferson) spheres, had a profound appreciation for science. But while Goethe and Jefferson rarely contributed (usefully, anyway) to the science of their day, the same can't be said of the Sage of Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin.

This book is a potted history of the discovery of electricity. Most of the standard fare is here: Leyden jars, Franklin's kites, Galvani's frogs. There are interesting digressions into theological perspectives and shock therapy. Most of this is reasonably presented, if lightly so. But it's also a book with an axe to grind, and here is it is on less solid ground. Some of the author's complaint is with linear and mythologized presentations of history, and that's certainly fair (and welcome). But Fara also makes strange and unjustified claims about spirituality, rationalism, and so forth, that indeed only distract from her main complaints. These mar what is otherwise a perfectly readable book, which is greatly enriched by a choice selection of illustrations.