Lightning Man by Kenneth Silverman
The Accursed Life of Samuel F. B. Morse

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Synopsis

In this brilliantly conceived and written biography, Pulitzer Prize–winning Kenneth Silverman gives us the long and amazing life of the man eulogized by the New York Herald in 1872 as “perhaps the most illustrious American of his age.”

Silverman presents Samuel Morse in all his complexity. There is the gifted and prolific painter (more than three hundred portraits and larger historical canvases) and pioneer photographer, who gave the first lectures on art in America, became the first Professor of Fine Arts at an American college (New York University), and founded the National Academy of Design. There is the republican idealist, prominent in antebellum politics, who ran for Congress and for mayor of New York. But most important, there is the inventor of the American electromagnetic telegraph, which earned Morse the name Lightning Man and brought him the fame he sought.

In these pages, we witness the evolution of the great invention from its inception as an idea to its introduction to the world—an event that astonished Morse’s contemporaries and was considered the supreme expression of the country’s inventive genius. We see how it transformed commerce, journalism, transportation, military affairs, diplomacy, and the very shape of daily life, ushering in the modern era of communication.

But we discover as well that Morse viewed his existence as accursed rather than illustrious, his every achievement seeming to end in loss and defeat: his most ambitious canvases went unsold; his beloved republic imploded into civil war, making it unlivable for him; and the commercial success of the telegraph engulfed him in lawsuits challenging the originality and ownership of his invention.

Lightning Man is the first biography of Samuel F. B. Morse in sixty years. It is a revelation of the life of a fascinating and profoundly troubled American genius.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Kenneth Silverman

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Kenneth Silverman is Professor Emeritus of English at New York University. His other books include Timothy Dwight, A Cultural History of the American Revolution, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, and Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize in American History, the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America, and the Christopher Literary Award of the Society of American Magicians.From the Hardcover edition.
 
Published March 25, 2010 by Knopf Group E-Books. 514 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Professional & Technical, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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He also left school with a mountain of debts, establishing a theme that figures throughout Silverman’s pages: brilliant though he was, Morse seemed incapable of handling money, and it was not until late in his long life that he finally was able to make a living from his considerable inventions.

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Project MUSE

Morse's more lasting impact on American art came through his efforts in establishing the National Academy of Design, an organization run by artists that he deemed more appropriate to republican art than the American Academy established by John Trumbull and dominated by the very patrons and collec...

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