From Publishers Weekly
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.
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From Scientific American
Did Franklin really fly that kite? Schiffer says yes, Tucker says no. Nobody knows. Schiffer, professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, accepts the tradition of the kite experiment, although he says it is "a long and inconclusive story." Tucker, a science writer, offers two reasons in particular for rejecting the kite story. One is that in describing the experiment in the newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, Franklin does not say that he did it. The other is that the experiment as Franklin described it would be unlikely to succeed because of the design of the kite and the difficulty of flying it under the conditions outlined by Franklin. Whatever the truth, the kite experiment is a footnote to the rapid blossoming of electrical technology in the 18th century. Both authors tell that story well.
Editors of Scientific American