“The Ingenious Dr. Franklin: Selected Scientific Letters of Benjamin Franklin”



Edited by Nathan G. Goodman
256 pages, $14.95 paper

Seventy-one years ago, the University of Pennsylvania Press published a compact collection of unabridged letters from Benjamin Franklin. Having gone out of print several decades ago, this chestnut was rediscovered in the book archive at the Press.

Before proceeding with a reprint, the press asked two persons familiar with science in the 18th century to review the letters.

Dava Sobel, author of “Longitude” and “Galileo’s Daughter,” replied, “Dr. Franklin’s own excited, uproariously witty reports to his family, his friends, and his scientific colleagues in Europe and America create an incomparable portrait of science in the 18th century. Reading these letters fosters a new affection for our country’s foremost and most beloved inventor.”

Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time, who is currently writing a biography of Franklin, wrote, “This marvelous collection helps rescue Ben Franklin from our impression of him as a genial tinkerer flying kites in the rain. In fact, he was a serious scientist whose letters reveal the scope of his ideas, ranging from daylight savings time to bifocals to magnetism. This book crackles with his wonderful mental energy.”

The letters in “The Ingenious Dr. Franklin” discuss an extraordinary range of topics, including the art of procuring pleasant dreams, choosing eyeglasses and charting the Gulf Stream. The letters discuss the first human flight, the character of clouds, the behavior of oil and water, smallpox and cancer, and prehistoric animals of the Ohio Valley and the cause of colds.

This book deserves a place beside his autobiography as essential reading for everyone interested in history, wit and invention. The Press is very pleased to present a new edition of this classic work so that readers can discover for themselves Benjamin Franklin’s vigorous personality, his humanity and his penetrating intelligence.

—University of Pennsylvania Press


Originally published on March 23, 2000