Cover image for Bolt of fate : Benjamin Franklin and his electric kite hoax
Bolt of fate : Benjamin Franklin and his electric kite hoax
Tucker, Tom, 1944-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : PublicAffairs, [2003]

Physical Description:
xx, 297 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QC16.F58 T83 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Benjamin Franklin's 1752 electric kite experiment, using lightning to throw a spark from a key, made him a celebrity, winning sympathy in France for the fight against the British. This text shows Franklin to be a great hoaxer and the fabled experiment his greatest hoax.

Author Notes

Tom Tucker is an award-winning author who writes often about the history of invention. His most recent publication, The Eclipse Project, was issued by NASA, the result of a fellowship administered by NASA Dryden Flight Research Center and Stanford University. He lives in Rutherfordton, North Carolina with his family

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and even Adams stare down at you from Mt. Olympus. But Benjamin Franklin has always seemed the most accessible of our Founding Fathers. He looks out benignly from our $100 bill. He dispenses grandfatherly wisdom spiced with humor from Poor Richard's Almanac. 0 Of course, Franklin was a complicated and interesting personality, as this book illustrates.Tucker is an award-winning author who writes frequently about the history of invention. His focus here is on Franklin the scientist and on his fabled experiment that proved lightening and electricity were one. Tucker clearly has an agenda; his efforts to prove that Franklin never flew the famous kite himself lead him into shaky speculations. Still, his portrayal of Franklin as a publicity hound who frequently fudged the truth has the ring of truth. Both books provide revealing insights into this extraordinary man with ordinary frailties. --Jay Freeman Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

According to Tucker, who writes on the history of invention, Benjamin Franklin's "multifaceted genius" had a hidden side: "He was also a splendid master of the hoax." And, notes Tucker, Franklin had reason to perpetrate a hoax on the scientific establishment, then embodied in Britain's Royal Society, where the colonial printer was not taken seriously as a scientist. Franklin's legendary electric kite experiment, Tucker asserts, was a myth propagated by Franklin himself that had repercussions even for the Revolution: the British feared that Franklin had created an electric superweapon that, in the words of Franklin's contemporary, Horace Walpole, "would reduce St. Paul's to a handful of ashes." Tucker bases his hoax theory on a reading of primary sources. A Franklin revival seems to be underway, and readers may want to read this heterodox study along with more general portraits of the man, such as Edmund Morgan's recent Benjamin Franklin and Walter Isaacson's forthcoming biography, due out in July. Illus. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Tucker's objective is to expose Benjamin Franklin as a hoaxer and a fraud. He begins by showing that Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack was a satire on the many other almanacs of the period, and that Franklin, using the fictitious name of Richard Saunders, created controversies in order to capture the imagination of the public and increase sales. He was successful. Tucker then uses most of the rest of the book to show that Benjamin Franklin's famous kite experiment was also a hoax. The author has created personalities of the major players in this story as if he were writing a novel; thus, he is also able to create their responses to people, events, and scientific theories. He recreates down to small details how these men in the 18th century spoke, gestured, read, and acted. Much of the body of work that the author presents as revelatory is well known by Franklin scholars. Now that Tucker has exposed Franklin's "frauds and hoaxes," one may believe that he is prepared to expose Jonathan Swift. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. General readers; upper-division undergraduates through faculty. A. M. Strauss Vanderbilt University

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Author's Notep. xiii
Prologuep. xv
Part 1 The Hand
I Almanack-Writerp. 3
II The Party Beginsp. 12
III The Equipmentp. 22
IV The Genius of Nationsp. 32
V Universal Curep. 41
VI Sundayp. 49
Part 2 The Virtuoso
VII Among Gentlemenp. 59
VIII Night Benjaminp. 70
IX Ivy-Girls and Holly-Boysp. 79
X Deadly Boxp. 87
XI The Crusadersp. 99
XII Marlyp. 110
XIII Lightningp. 124
Part 3 Citizen of the World
XIV The Kitep. 135
XV Death at St. Petersburgp. 157
XVI Making Amendsp. 177
XVII Franklin's Pointp. 186
XVIII The Tallyp. 195
Part 4 Household God
XIX The Makingp. 205
XX Bolt of Fatep. 215
XXI Checkmatep. 229
Epiloguep. 235
Notesp. 239
Bibliographyp. 271
Indexp. 287