An Entertainment for Angels: Electricity in the Enlightenment

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Icon, 2002 - Science - 186 pages
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Electricity was the scientific fashion of the Enlightenment, 'an Entertainment for Angels, rather than for Men'. Lecturers attracted huge audiences to marvel 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. Enlightenment optimists predicted that this new-found power of nature would cure illnesses, improve crop production, even bring the dead back to life.
Benjamin Franklin, better known as one of America's founding fathers, played a key role in developing the new instruments and theories of electricity during the eighteenth century. Celebrated for drawing lightning down from the sky with a kite, Franklin was an Enlightenment expert on electricity who introduced rods to protect tall buildings, treated paralysed patients, and developed one of the most successful explanations of this mysterious phenomenon.
Using contemporary illustrations, Patricia Fara vividly portrays how Franklin and his colleagues struggled to understand the strange and exciting effects that their experiments were producing. By demonstrating their control of the natural world, Enlightenment philosophers hoped to gain authority over society. And their stunning electrical performances provided dramatic evidence of their special powers.

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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


Electricity and Enlightenment
Francis Hauksbee and

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About the author (2002)

Patricia Fara is a fellow of Clare College, Cambridge where she teaches History of Science. She is an expert on magnetism in the eighteenth century, and has written and lectured widely on scientific portraits, the northern lights and international exploration. Her most recent book is Newton: The Making of Genius (Picador, 2002).

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