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Book and Media Reviews
March 15, 2006

Benjamin Franklin

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: Harriet S. Meyer, MD, Contributing Editor, JAMA.

JAMA. 2006;295(11):1313-1318. doi:10.1001/jama.295.11.1314

Benjamin Franklin is justifiably recognized as 18th-century colonial America's leading Renaissance figure, with outstanding careers in diplomacy, publishing, and science. However, his substantial contributions to clinical medicine and public health have been mostly ignored. Fortunately, Stanley Finger's clearly written volume helps fill much of this void in Franklin's biography.

Basing his findings on Franklin's publications and numerous letters to his physician colleagues, Finger, a noted historian of the neurosciences, presents a fascinating description of 18th-century medical theories, practices, and the medical elite in the North American colonies and Europe. Franklin's pioneering research and publications on electricity earned him great respect from the medical and scientific communities on both sides of the Atlantic. During his travels in Great Britain and Continental Europe, Franklin interacted with famous medical and scientific figures of his era. In Great Britain he had close ties to such eminent medical leaders as John and William Hunter, John Fothergill, William Cullen, and John Pringle. While in Europe, Franklin worked closely with many notable physicians, including Jean Georges Cabanis, Philippe Pinel, and Jan Ingenhousz. Franklin shared his scientific expertise with numerous leading scholars, working on theories concerning gases with Joseph Priestly and Antoine Lavoisier.

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