Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery That Baffled All of France

illus. by Iacopo Bruno. 48p. bibliog. further reading. illus. maps. notes. Candlewick. Feb. 2015. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780763663513. LC 2014939337.
RedReviewStarGr 2–5—Benjamin Franklin could be described in so many different ways: inventor, printer, scientist, thinker, diplomat. From this book, the word skeptic should be added to this list. While in France raising funds for the American rebellion against the British, Franklin was enlisted by Louis XVI to investigate the claims made by a young Austrian doctor who had much of Europe enthralled with his ability to remedy a wide variety of illnesses simply by waving an iron wand around their person. Calling it "animal magnetism," Franz Mesmer was treating the European elite by bringing them into darkened rooms while spellbinding music played on a glass armonica, invented by none other than Franklin himself. Mesmer would charge a rather large sum of money and pronounce his clients "cured." Doubtful of Mesmer's abilities, Franklin set about disproving the doctor's claims. Rockliff's lighthearted tone and lively writing style are enhanced by the use of different typefaces and print sizes, as well as a layout that will keep readers engaged throughout. Rockliff plays with words and rhythm, making this book an excellent choice for reading aloud. The artwork is infused with humor, and the individual's expressions throughout are a delight, from the look on the face of a swooning patient to Mesmer's own intense glare. There is much here to draw the eye and prod discussion. A lengthy author's note fills in the details of the story and provides information on the scientific method. Overall, a wonderful and fun-filled title that introduces yet another facet of a fascinating man.—Jody Kopple, Shady Hill School, Cambridge, MA
In 1778 Paris, Franz Anton Mesmer convinced many they were cured of ailments through "animal magnetism." Benjamin Franklin, Antoine Lavoisier, and others debunked Mesmer's procedure through their invention of the "blind" test and discovery of the placebo effect. Aside from the misdirection of giving Franklin all the glory, Rockliff's text is engaging and lively and pairs beautifully with Bruno's dramatic, bold illustrations. Bib.
In 1778 Franz Anton Mesmer, fleeing scandal, brought his technique of "animal magnetism" to Paris. Using magnets and a "glass armonica," his procedure convinced many that they were cured of their ailments. King Louis XVI commissioned the French Academy of Sciences to investigate, and they appointed a commission that included Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier, among others. The commission debunked Mesmer's procedure (as practiced by his assistant D'Eslon), through their invention of the "blind" test and discovery of the placebo effect. Rockliff gives Franklin all the glory in her brief, sometimes jumpy narrative, suggesting he was the sole and direct appointee of the king, and that he invented and conducted the tests completely on his own (she gives a more complete context in her afterword). Aside from this grand misdirection, her text is engaging and lively ("Dr. Mesmer was as different from Ben Franklin as a fancy layered torte was from a homemade apple pie") and pairs beautifully with Bruno's dramatic and bold illustrations, which fully conduct the audience's attention. There is no way a reader will escape the truly mesmerizing and energetic design, which incorporates period Parisian flourishes. The entire presentation effectively introduces the gist of this story, and demonstrates in particular the scientific-method process which Franklin (and others) applied, and which makes this book particularly suited to STEM and Common Core curricula. nina lindsay

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