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The remarkable story of Benjamin Rush, medical pioneer and one of our nation’s most provocative and unsung Founding Fathers
In the summer of 1776, fifty-six men put their quills to a dangerous document they called the Declaration of Independence. Among them was a thirty-year-old doctor named Benjamin Rush. One of the youngest signatories, he was also, among stiff competition, one of the most visionary.
A brilliant physician and writer, Rush was known as the “American Hippocrates” for pioneering national healthcare and revolutionizing treatment of mental illness and addiction. Yet medicine is only part of his legacy. Dr. Rush was both a progressive thorn in the side of the American political establishment—a vocal opponent of slavery, capital punishment, and prejudice by race, religion or gender—and close friends with its most prominent leaders. He was the protégé of Franklin, the editor of Common Sense, Washington’s surgeon general, and the broker of peace between Adams and Jefferson, yet his stubborn convictions more than once threatened his career and his place in the narrative of America’s founding.
Drawing on a trove of previously unpublished letters and images, the voluminous correspondence between Rush and his better-known counterparts, and his candid and incisive personal writings, New York Times bestselling author and award-winning journalist Stephen Fried resurrects the most significant Founding Father we’ve never heard of and finally installs Dr. Rush in the pantheon of great American leaders.
About the Author
STEPHEN FRIED is an award-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author who teaches at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the University of Pennsylvania. He is, most recently, the author of the historical biography Appetite for America, and the coauthor, with Congressman Patrick Kennedy, of A Common Struggle. His earlier books include the biography Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia and the investigative books Bitter Pills and The New Rabbi. A two-time winner of the National Magazine Award, Fried has written frequently for Vanity Fair, GQ, The Washington Post Magazine, Rolling Stone, Glamour, and Philadelphia Magazine. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, author Diane Ayres.
"Reminds us eloquently, abundantly, what a brilliant, original man Benjamin Rush was, and how his contributions to Philadelphia and the United States continue to bless us all." —The Philadelphia Inquirer
"Fried makes the case, in this comprehensive and fascinating biography, that renaissance man Benjamin Rush merits more attention….Fried portrays Rush as a complex, flawed person and not just a list of accomplishments;…a testament to the authorial thoroughness and insight that will keep readers engaged until the last page.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A welcome biography of a Founding Father…[who] became a prominent revolutionary and signer of the Declaration of Independence, then surgeon general of the Continental Army…renowned in the annals of American medicine as a pioneer of medical education and the treatment of the mentally ill….A complete portrait of a complex man...who excited attention and controversy in his day but then fell into the shadows. Fried does well to restore him to history.” —Kirkus
"Fried’s reclamation of this important, overlooked American founder is an invaluable addition to American history collections and a solid recommendation to biography fans.” —Booklist
“The best books are full of surprises. Rush has more of them than any historical biography I have read in ages. It is vast and sumptuous and brings to life Founding Father Benjamin Rush in full technicolor. Too long ignored, Rush’s varied and mercurial brilliance puts him smack in the company of such figures as Adams and Jefferson and Washington and Hamilton with one exception: he is more interesting than any of them. He revolutionized medicine. He revolutionized healthcare. He revolutionized life. Fried draws it all out with his usual perfect pitch of reportage and writing. What a grand feast and feat.” —Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and A Prayer for the City
“Benjamin Rush is best known as the founding father the more famous founders wrote to. Stephen Fried, in this fascinating biography, shows us why we need to reconsider, and pay more attention to a man whose talents rivaled Franklin’s, opinions equaled Adams’s, and facility with language approached Jefferson’s.”—H.W. Brands, author of The First American and Heirs of the Founders
“Stephen Fried has written a gem of a book—the riveting story of a Founding Father who is too often forgotten. In this magnificent work, Benjamin Rush gets the biography he deserves, and readers get an expertly researched, splendidly written account of a brilliant, influential man and the times in which he lived.” —Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life
“An engrossing exploration of a founding father whose life sheds new light on the American Revolution, as well as on the ongoing challenges of civil rights and mental healthcare in this country. I had no idea how much Rush helped to shape our young nation and how urgent his voice remains today. Anyone who cares about our past and future—politically, medically, spiritually—should read this masterful biography.” —Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, co-author of A Common Struggle
"An important and fascinating account of a relatively neglected yet critical Founding Father. Benjamin Rush—Surgeon General of the Continental Army, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Jefferson's choice for medical advisor to the Lewis and Clark Expedition—is also acknowledged as the father of American Psychiatry for his study and treatment of the mentally ill. Stephen Fried brings to life Rush's extraordinary political and medical contributions, as well as the times in which he lived." —Kay Redfield Jamison, author of An Unquiet Mind and Robert Lowell: Setting the River on Fire