An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment

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Columbia University Press, 2002 - Science - 177 pages
3 Reviews

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.

  

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - NielsenGW - LibraryThing

Noted science historian Patricia Fara details the history of electrical discoveries and innovations from Newton to Volta, threading together the lives of Benjamin Franklin, Mary Shelley, Henry ... Read full review

Review: An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment

User Review  - Lissa Notreallywolf - Goodreads

Unlike most history of science books, this one is enough to make one laugh aloud. Science at one point was an entertainment opportunity, where people hired folks to perform experiments. My favorite was the electrical boys, with Mesmer ranking a close second. Read full review

Contents

Introduction
1
Illuminations The Light of Reason
5
Interpretations
9
Electricity and Enlightenment
12
Shocking Inventions Instruments
25
Robert Boyle and the Airpump
30
Francis Hauksbee and the Electrical Machine
38
Stephen Gray and the Charity Boy
42
Sparks of Imagination Theories
99
Problems
103
Fluids and Atmospheres
111
Theological Aethers
116
Measurement and Mathematics
123
The Flow of Life Current Electricity
133
Henry Cavendish and the Torpedo
137
Luigi Galvani and his Frogs
145

Pieter van Musschenbroek and the Leyden Jar
51
Lightning Cures Applications
63
Benjamin Franklin
67
Knobs or Points?
76
The Business of Medicine
82
Therapeutic Shocks
91
Alessandro Volta and his Pile
153
Resuscitation
165
Further Reading
171
Notes
173
Copyright

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About the author (2002)

Edward D. berkowitz is professor of history and public policy and public administration at George Washington University. He is the author of eight books and the editor of three collections. During the seventies he served as a staff member of the President's Commission for a National Agenda, helping President Carter plan for a second term that never came to be.

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