SCIENTIST, SOLDIER, STATESMAN, SPY by G.I. Brown

SCIENTIST, SOLDIER, STATESMAN, SPY

Count Rumford: The Extraordinary Life of a Scientific Genius
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KIRKUS REVIEW

If the life of the American-born scientist Count Rumford had been created in a novel, nobody would believe it. This new biography chronicles all his achievements and escapades. Born near Boston in 1753, Benjamin Thompson showed an early aptitude for scientific subjects and a passion for rigor and organization. At 19, working as a schoolmaster, he married a rich widow who introduced him into society. As Brown (The Big Bang: A History of Explosives, not reviewed) makes clear, Thompson assiduously cultivated his newly forged connections with Royalist authorities. Spying for the British when the Revolution broke out, he fled to England, without his wife and two-year-old daughter, in 1776—never to return. His political connections got him a commission as a full colonel and a knighthood, and his scientific investigations of gunnery won him election to the Royal Society. Then he headed to Bavaria, where he almost instantly won high office, reforming the military and instituting workhouses for the poor—the entire time, apparently, spying for England. Promoted to count, he took the name Rumford, after the New Hampshire town where he had abandoned his wife. As a scientist, he took a particular interest in heat; his experiments not only helped establish the kinetic theory of heat, but led him to develop significant improvements in domestic heating, lighting, and cookery. His discoveries also prompted him to don white clothing in winter, as the best means for preserving body heat—a choice that marked him as eccentric. Back in England, he helped establish the British Institute, a major force for the dissemination of scientific knowledge. Meanwhile, he accumulated a string of mistresses, including the widow of the French chemist Lavoisier, whom he married in 1805. He lived out his final days in Paris, an eccentric to the end. Brown’s telling of Rumford’s tale is somewhat pedestrian, but the mere facts are enough to make this a page-turner. (8 pages b&w illus.)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7509-2184-6
Page count: 192pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1999




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