Monthly Archives: February 2012

The only full biography of Benjamin Rush, an extraordinary Founding Father and America’s leading physician of the Colonial era

Benjamin Rush : patriot and physician    New York : Truman Talley Books, 2004   Alyn Brodsky United States. Declaration of Independence Signers Biography, Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813 Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. viii, 404 p. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [385]-387) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

While Benjamin Rush appears often and meaningfully in biographies about John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, this legendary man is presented as little more than a historical footnote. Yet, he was a propelling force in what culminated in the Declaration of Independence, to which he was a signer.

Rush was an early agitator for independence, a member of the First Continental Congress, and one of the leading surgeons of the Continental Army during the early phase of the American Revolution. He was an constant and indefatigable adviser to the foremost figures of the American Revolution, notably George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.

Even if he had not played a major role in our country’s creation, Rush would have left his mark in history as an eminent physician and a foremost social reformer in such areas as medical teaching, treatment of the mentally ill (he is considered the Father of American Psychiatry), international prevention of yellow fever, establishment of public schools, implementation of improved education for women, and much more.

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America in 1826

America’s jubilee    New York : A.A. Knopf, 2001 Andrew Burstein United States. Declaration of Independence Anniversaries, etc. Hardcover. 1st. ed. xiv, 361 p. : ill., maps ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

On July 4, 1826, the United States celebrated its fiftieth birthday with parades and speeches across the country. But what ultimately sanctified the national jubilee in the minds of the celebrants was an extraordinary coincidence: the nearly simultaneous deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, the last pillars of the original republic, already venerated as legends in their own time. It was a watershed in the nation’s history, a bright moment when the successors to the Revolutionary dream examined their own lives as they took inspiration from and found nostalgia in the accomplishments of the founders.

In this fascinating book, the distinguished historian Andrew Burstein explores what it was to be an American in 1826. Drawing on private diaries and letters, daily newspapers, and long-buried publications, he shows us the personal lives behind the pageantry and reveals an acutely self-conscious nation–anxiously optimistic about its future, eager to romanticize the Revolutionary past.

We follow the Marquis de Lafayette, the only surviving general of the War of Independence, on his triumphant 1825 tour of all twenty-four states. We visit an Ohio boomtown on the edge of the “new West,” a region influenced by the Erie Canal and the commercialism that canal culture brought with it. We see through the eyes of ordinary citizens – the wife of a Massachusetts minister, the author of a popular novel of the day, the family of a prominent statesman – and learn about their gritty understanding of life and death, the nuances of contemporary  politics, and the sometimes treacherous drama of public debate. And we meet headline-makers such as President John Quincy Adams, the controversial Secretary of State Henry Clay, and the notoriously hot-tempered General Andrew Jackson, struggling to act in a statesmanlike way as he waits to be swept into the White House.

In this evocative portrait of the United States in its jubilee year, Burstein shows how 1826 marked an unforgettable time in the republic’s history, when a generation embraced the legacy of its predecessors and sought to enlarge its role in America’s story.

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The ship, which has weathered all storms, may sink through the mutiny of those on board.

After the Bounty : a sailor’s account of the mutiny and life in the South Seas    Washington, D.C. : Potomac Books, c 2010 James Morrison ; edited and annotated by Donald A. Maxton Bounty Mutiny, 1789, Morrison, James, 1763-1807 Diaries Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. xv, 253 p., [16] p. of plates : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

In 1787, the Royal Navy ship H.M.S. Bounty, captained by William Bligh, set sail for Tahiti in search of breadfruit plants. Soon after leaving Tahiti, Master’s Mate Fletcher Christian led a successful revolt, setting Bligh and eighteen of his men adrift. In his journal, fellow mutineer James Morrison recounts the Bounty’s voyage from his perspective as the boatswain’s mate, placing considerable blame for the mutiny on Bligh’s irascible personality and style of command. This event, however, simply introduces Morrison’s remarkable journey through the South Seas.

A born storyteller, Morrison presents compelling tales after the Bounty mutiny, beginning with ringleader Fletcher Christian’s two bloody, ill-fated attempts to establish a refuge on the island of Tubuai. Morrison then recounts his eighteen month sojourn on Tahiti, where he constructed a seaworthy schooner and closely observed every aspect of the island and its way of life. He also includes the subsequent arrival of H.M.S. Pandora, which was charged with bringing the mutineers back to England for trial, and his imprisonment in the horrific “Pandora’s Box.” Morrison once again faces peril when the Pandora sinks on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where thirty-one of the crew and four prisoners perished.

Although Morrison did not actively participate in the Bounty insurrection, he had remained with Fletcher Christian’s party, which was enough evidence for condemnation once back in England. While imprisoned, Morrison began composing his journal. He was released — King George III granted a pardon — and soon after wrote the second half of the journal, which he filled with detailed descriptions of Tahitian life, culture, and natural history. Morrison’s journal is an invaluable resource for naval historians and an enthralling tale for the general reader.

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Burns brought to the task a sound knowledge of actual whaling, much curious learning in the literature of the subject, and, above all, an imagination which worked with great power upon the facts of his own experience.

A year with a whaler    New York, 1500 Books, 2007   Walter Noble Burns Whaling Softcover. Originally published – New York, Outing publishing co., 1913.  250 p. front., plates. 22 cm. Clean, tight and strong binding. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text.  VG

Responding to a newspaper ad in 1890, Walter Noble Burns shipped out from San Francisco on a whaling expedition aboard the bark Alexander to the Chukchi and Bering Seas. The freshness and excitement of the experience, so keenly recorded in his memoir, is soon balanced by his growing experience in the ways of whalers. As Burns learns more about the men he’s shipped with, he also discovers the mammals that he and his fellow sailors hunt – both for income, and for sport. The power, intelligence and, more than all, courage of these hunted animals is clearly described by this young eyewitness. None prove to be easy prey, and whether in success or failure, their personalities come through as vividly as those of the men who hunt them.

The sea and its moods are as much a character in this memoir as the author’s hodgepodge of shipmates. A stream of anecdotes, character sketches, and settings make this story as real as if the author was here to share it today. A Year with a Whaler is a year among men, animals and the sea itself, as seen through the eyes of an innocent who went to sea to find the man he was to become.

Walter Noble Burns was born in 1872. After responding to a help wanted ad he shipped out on the whaling bark Alexander in 1890 and wrote this memoir in 1913.

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The important thing is to know how to take all things quietly… Michael Faraday

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s mind without another’s guidance. Sapere Aude! Dare to Know! Have the courage to use your own understanding is therefore the motto of the Enlightenment.. Immanuel Kant

A group of ants was walking down a rope and arrived at the end. Their leader told them, “See! if you follow any man-made item you will arrive at the end of your rope!” Our last review about J. Robert Oppenheimer, a disciple of Kant if ever there was one, seems to embody the proof of this statement.

Faraday would say, “Nothing is too wonderful to be true if it be consistent with the laws of nature,” however metaphysics transcends the phenomena of nature and therefore cannot be verified by observation. Discarding metaphysics also means discarding a theory of knowledge believed, tested and accepted  between Plato and Descartes. Another way of putting this is that 2000 years of philosophic thought was  abandoned and the industrial age had been sired out-of-wedlock by enlightenment consorting with money. Two centuries of war in Italy would give of Hugo Grotius [“A man cannot govern a nation if he cannot govern a city; he cannot govern a city if he cannot govern a family; he cannot govern a family unless he can govern himself; and he cannot govern himself unless his passions are subject to reason”] where two centuries of  industry in Switzerland would give us the cuckoo clock.

In terms of religion, only some of the “enlightened” were atheists – most were deists and a handful clutched the security blanket of what the 18th century called “reasonable Christianity,” while others professed skepticism, reluctant to accept either atheist dogma or Christian revelation. A few, like Faraday, were literalists but even their world was disenchanted – they were willing to believe almost anything but a miracle.

For all of his genius Faraday still operated in a vacuum – believing the Bible literally – but never understanding that its greatest truths, though literal, transcend nature as we understand it. Although he seems sane by comparison Faraday also is a father for Oppenheimer and the modern world. This is an excellent biography even if it does miss that architectonic truth.

A life of discovery : Michael Faraday, giant of the scientific revolution    New York : Random House, c 2002 James Hamilton Physicists Great Britain Biography, Faraday, Michael, 1791-1867 Hardcover. Originally published: Faraday. London : HarperCollins, 2002. 1st. American ed., later printing. xxii, 465 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 447-449) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Born in 1791, Faraday was the son of a blacksmith with a thin education, yet he was gifted with a rare intelligence and intuition. He was a devout member of a small Christian sect that believed in the Bible’s literal word, yet he was open to all that humankind could invent from earthly knowledge. He was ambitious and savvy about spreading news of his work, yet he patented nothing and received no personal gain. In short, Faraday personified all the paradoxes of the early nineteenth century, a landscape in which class, faith, and desire clashed.

As apprentice to the esteemed Humphrey Davy of the Royal Institution, he helped discover the miner’s safety lamp, which revolutionized the search for and accumulation of coal, then went on to make a landmark study of induction, the connection between electricity and magnetism, and the idea of the electromagnetic field. From electric motors to precision-made eyeglass lenses to steel razors to liquid chlorine, his inventions – often designed with self-created instruments – have become staples of civilized society, the “roots of modern life.”

While rising in society, Faraday steered clear of politics and the seamy machinations of the material world, staying obedient to a higher authority. Though disdainful of “useless passion” and devoted to his wife, he found a confidante in the bright, liberated, and flirtatious daughter of Lord Byron. Trying to reconcile his severe religion and his demanding work, he eventually suffered a mental collapse.

An acclaimed biographer of artists, James Hamilton captures the entire fascinating story of this individual and his era. A Life of Discovery is the definitive account of a remarkable man who merged intuition and logic, prayer and deduction.

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