Friday, June 15, 2007

The new book!

The Founding Fathers. Networked.

In AMERICAN CONNECTIONS: The Founding Fathers. Networked. (Simon & Schuster Trade Paperbacks; July 2007; $17.00), James Burke – best-selling writer, television host, and world-renowned authority on the history of technology and science – returns to the format of his perennially popular book, Connections. Exploring the interconnections between the men who signed the Declaration of Independence and a countless array of artists, writers, scientists, politicians, trendsetters and scoundrels who came after them, AMERICAN CONNECTIONS celebrates the “six degrees of separation” that make history both fascinating and relevant. With his trademark irreverent wit and astounding erudition, Burke employs a dazzling narrative legerdemain as he brings each of the fifty-six historical threads full-circle to a modern-day bearer of the Founding Father’s name.

Burke begins each chapter with a thumbnail sketch of the Declaration signer, often dispelling the notion that these iconic figures (many of them now virtually forgotten) were men of perfect principles. John Hancock, for instance, was an egomaniac whom nobody liked. Samuel Chase was “universally despised… a foul-mouthed rabble-rouser.” Carter Braxton’s complexion “reflected the glow of a good Madeira.” John Hart slept in a doghouse. Richard Stockton changed his mind, repudiating his signature and swearing allegiance to the king (albeit after being caught and imprisoned by the British).

After reintroducing these history-making men, Burke then takes readers on mini-tours through time. With numerous stops along the way, Benjamin Franklin’s connections take us from that remarkable American Renaissance man to “Owl and the Pussycat” poet Edward Lear, then onto early chain-bookstore pioneer W.H. Smith, Florence Nightingale, Frederick Law Olmsted, and Carl Zeiss. Thomas Jefferson leads to an Italian political philosopher named Cesare Beccaria, who first “measured” the meter, to James Smithson (he of the Smithsonian Institution), to the inventor of the kaleidoscope, the discovery of hay fever, an early proponent of anesthesia, and Albert Einstein. From John Adams, known in his day as “His Rotundity,” we meet teacher of the deaf Thomas Gallaudet, Sir Walter Scott, J.M.W. Turner, and Clementine Hozier (wife of Winston Churchill).