The Society for Useful Knowledge by Jonathan Lyons
How Benjamin Franklin and Friends Brought the Enlightenment to America

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Clear, focused snapshots of a movement and its celebrated leader.


Benjamin Franklin and his contemporaries brought the Enlightenment to America-an intellectual revolution that laid the foundation for the political one that followed. With the "first Drudgery†? of settling the American colonies now past, Franklin announced in 1743, it was time the colonists set about improving the lot of humankind through collaborative inquiry. From Franklin's idea emerged the American Philosophical Society, an association hosted in Philadelphia and dedicated to the harnessing of man's intellectual and creative powers for the common good. The animus behind the society was and is a disarmingly simple one-that the value of knowledge is directly proportional to its utility. This straightforward idea has left a profound mark on American society and culture and on the very idea of America itself-and through America, on the world as a whole.

From celebrated historian of ideas Jonathan Lyons comes The Society for Useful Knowledge, telling the story of America's coming-of-age through its historic love affair with practical invention, applied science, and self-reliance. Offering fresh insights into such figures as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, and the inimitable, endlessly inventive Franklin, Lyons gives us a vital new perspective on the American founding. He illustrates how the movement for useful knowledge is key to understanding the flow of American society and culture from colonial times to the present day.

About Jonathan Lyons

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Jonathan Lyons spent twenty years as a foreign correspondent and editor for Reuters, much of it in the Islamic world. His research focuses on the shifting boundaries between East and West, and his publications include The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization and (with Geneive Abdo) Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-first-Century Iran. He has a doctorate in sociology and lives in Washington, D.C.
Published June 11, 2013 by Bloomsbury Press. 240 pages
Genres: History, War. Non-fiction
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Above average
Reviewed by Laura J. Snyder on Sep 06 2013

Mr. Lyons tells an interesting, if unoriginal, story of the growth of science and scientific networks in colonial and post-colonial America. But in formulating his ambitious claim that the notion of useful knowledge "made possible the Revolution," he overreaches.

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on Apr 11 2013

Clear, focused snapshots of a movement and its celebrated leader.

Read Full Review of The Society for Useful Knowle... | See more reviews from Kirkus

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