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Rush
Cover of Rush
Rush
Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father
The monumental life of Benjamin Rush, medical pioneer and one of our most provocative and unsung Founding Fathers

FINALIST FOR THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BOOK PRIZE
  • AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR

    By the time he was thirty, Dr. Benjamin Rush had signed the Declaration of Independence, edited Common Sense, toured Europe as Benjamin Franklin's protégé, and become John Adams's confidant, and was soon to be appointed Washington's surgeon general. And as with the greatest Revolutionary minds, Rush was only just beginning his role in 1776 in the American experiment. As the new republic coalesced, he became a visionary writer and reformer; a medical pioneer whose insights and reforms revolutionized the treatment of mental illness; an opponent of slavery and prejudice by race, religion, or gender; an adviser to, and often the physician of, America's first leaders; and "the American Hippocrates." Rush reveals his singular life and towering legacy, installing him in the pantheon of our wisest and boldest Founding Fathers.

    Praise for Rush

    "Entertaining . . . Benjamin Rush has been undeservedly forgotten. In medicine . . . [and] as a political thinker, he was brilliant."The New Yorker

    "Superb . . . reminds us eloquently, abundantly, what a brilliant, original man Benjamin Rush was, and how his contributions to . . . the United States continue to bless us all."The Philadelphia Inquirer

    "Perceptive . . . [a] readable reassessment of Rush's remarkable career."The Wall Street Journal

    "An amazing life and a fascinating book."CBS This Morning
    "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)
    "[An] extraordinary and underappreciated man is reinstated to his rightful place in the canon of civilizational advancement in Rush. . . . Had I read Fried's Rush before the year's end, it would have crowned my favorite books of 2018 . . . [a] superb biography."Brain Pickings
  • The monumental life of Benjamin Rush, medical pioneer and one of our most provocative and unsung Founding Fathers

    FINALIST FOR THE GEORGE WASHINGTON BOOK PRIZE
  • AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION NOTABLE BOOK OF THE YEAR

    By the time he was thirty, Dr. Benjamin Rush had signed the Declaration of Independence, edited Common Sense, toured Europe as Benjamin Franklin's protégé, and become John Adams's confidant, and was soon to be appointed Washington's surgeon general. And as with the greatest Revolutionary minds, Rush was only just beginning his role in 1776 in the American experiment. As the new republic coalesced, he became a visionary writer and reformer; a medical pioneer whose insights and reforms revolutionized the treatment of mental illness; an opponent of slavery and prejudice by race, religion, or gender; an adviser to, and often the physician of, America's first leaders; and "the American Hippocrates." Rush reveals his singular life and towering legacy, installing him in the pantheon of our wisest and boldest Founding Fathers.

    Praise for Rush

    "Entertaining . . . Benjamin Rush has been undeservedly forgotten. In medicine . . . [and] as a political thinker, he was brilliant."The New Yorker

    "Superb . . . reminds us eloquently, abundantly, what a brilliant, original man Benjamin Rush was, and how his contributions to . . . the United States continue to bless us all."The Philadelphia Inquirer

    "Perceptive . . . [a] readable reassessment of Rush's remarkable career."The Wall Street Journal

    "An amazing life and a fascinating book."CBS This Morning
    "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)
    "[An] extraordinary and underappreciated man is reinstated to his rightful place in the canon of civilizational advancement in Rush. . . . Had I read Fried's Rush before the year's end, it would have crowned my favorite books of 2018 . . . [a] superb biography."Brain Pickings
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    • From the book 1

      Benjamin Rush's "first unwelcome noise in the world" rang out from a second-floor bedroom of the stone farmhouse in Byberry, northeast of Philadelphia, on Christmas Eve, 1745.

      His cries were heard downstairs in the first-floor common room, where the Rush family had been gathering at the hearth for three generations. The room had gone from a place for "conversations about wolves and bears and snakes in the first settlement of the farm" to a place for discussions "about cows, and calves and colts and lambs, and the comparative exploits of reapers and mowers and threshers," as Rush's grandfather had shifted from simple farming to metalwork, and Rush's father, John, developed as a talented blacksmith and gunsmith.

      The news of Benjamin's birth was greeted with thanks to God. The Rush family were "pious people," their conversations infused "at all times with prayers and praises, and chapters read audibly from the Bible."

      The Rushes were also quietly defiant people. An old sword hung in the farmhouse—and in every subsequent place Benjamin Rush lived—that had been carried into battle by his great-grandfather, John, a horse trooper in Oliver Cromwell's army during its fight against the Crown in the English Civil War. The family had left the Church of England to become Quakers, then fled England for America with William Penn in 1683. There they split off from their original Quaker group of Byberry Friends in 1691, before departing Quakerism altogether to become Baptists, and eventually circling back around to the Church of England.

      Benjamin Rush was the fourth of seven children and the second-eldest son. His father, John, was quiet and stolid, and what he lacked in formal education he made up for with hard work and "a talent for observation and combination"—an ability to understand people and connect dots that others didn't even see. While he didn't talk a lot, what he said was often notable; Rush's mother remembered that when their children began to speak, her husband said, "The first words of a child, and the last words of a saint, are the sweetest music in the world." Rush's mother, Susanna Hall Rush, was five years older than John and came from a more affluent family in nearby Tacony. She had attended boarding school in Philadelphia and was considered "a woman of a very extraordinary mind," full of energy and insight. She had been married once before, a pairing recalled as "unfortunate" and "full of misery," ending with her husband dying young of "extravagance and intemperance."

      Rush spent the first several years of his life on the family farm, with his older brother James, his sisters Rachel and Rebecca, and a younger brother, Jacob: five children born over seven years. Susanna raised them with help from her daughter from her previous marriage, a cook, and several farmhands. Rush's strongest memories of the farm were of the apple orchard his father cultivated, and a "small but deep creek abounding with pan fish." The boys fished, shot and hunted, learning respect for the guns their father made and repaired—flintlock pistols, muskets, and the new American long rifle.

      Rush was a thin, sturdy boy, with light-colored hair, expressive blue-gray eyes, a long nose, and a thin-lipped mouth that he almost never shut. He was aggressively curious about facts, opinions, Scripture, and people, to the point of seeming intellectually and personally nosy. He was clearly precocious but was not as serious-minded as his parents would have liked. "Those who knew me at that time," he recalled, "would remember me only as an idle, playful, and I am sorry to add, sometimes a mischievous boy."

      Besides the farm in Byberry,...
    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 co-author, 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.
    Reviews-
    • Kirkus

      July 15, 2018
      A welcome biography of a Founding Father who, for many reasons, has been eclipsed by other figures of the Revolution.Benjamin Rush (1745-1843) is renowned in the annals of American medicine as a pioneer of medical education and the treatment of the mentally ill. Yet, writes Fried (Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire that Civilized the Wild West, 2010, etc.), Rush came to medicine somewhat late, having rejected a career in the clergy and then the law, and he settled in to a kind of general practice that was notable for lifestyle advice: "Every full meal," he warned, "is a stimulous to the whole system, and brings on a temporary fever." Well ahead of contemporaries and later generations of professionals, he advocated a nice round of golf, a game that he claimed would allow its player to "live ten years the longer." Falling into the orbit of freethinkers such as Benjamin Franklin and John Adams, the latter of whom thought him "too much of a talker to be a deep thinker," Rush became a prominent revolutionary and signer of the Declaration of Independence, then surgeon general of the Continental Army. In the last post, he advocated for better conditions for the soldiers, a losing argument in "an army that still didn't have enough uniforms, shoes, or proper weapons." Fried's account of Rush's postwar career is full of oddments: A slaveholder, Rush eventually became a vocal abolitionist and supporter of African-American causes; an early advocate of mental health treatments, some of which we would regard as quackery today, he had some odd notions--e.g., the thought that booksellers, moving from one book and one subject to another so rapidly, "have sometimes become deranged from this cause." In all, Fried delivers a complete portrait of a complex man too little known outside Philadelphia.A careful account of a man who excited attention and controversy in his day but then fell into the shadows. Fried does well to restore him to history.

      COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

    • Publisher's Weekly

      Starred review from July 30, 2018
      Fried (Appetite for America) makes the case, in this comprehensive and fascinating biography, that renaissance man Benjamin Rush merits more attention. Rush served the American Revolution “as a doctor, a politician, a social reformer, an educational visionary, and even as an activist editor”— and persuaded Thomas Paine to write Common Sense. He put his life on the line as a battlefield surgeon; wrote a “pamphlet that would transform military medicine in America”; served as a public health advocate and champion of public education for all, including women, African-Americans, and immigrants; and supported abolition and the separation of church and state. He was credited by John Adams as having made more contributions to independence from Britain than Ben Franklin. Despite all this, Fried portrays Rush as a complex, flawed person and not just a list of accomplishments; he describes the doctor’s ill-advised and indiscreet criticisms of the leadership of the Continental Army in 1778, conveyed in a letter to his wife that discussed the possibility of ousting Washington as its commander—a primary source that Fried and his researchers believe had never been transcribed before. That find is a testament to the authorial thoroughness and insight that will keep readers engaged until the last page.

    • Library Journal

      September 15, 2018

      Fried (journalism, Columbia Univ. Graduate Sch. of Journalism; Univ. of Pennsylvania) endeavors to resurrect a forgotten Founding Father in this biography of Benjamin Rush (1745-1813), the most renowned physician of his time, whose life and career spanned three critical periods of America's beginnings: Colonial, Revolutionary, and Early Republic. Educated at Edinburgh University's world-renowned medical school, Rush became known as the "American Hippocrates." Like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, whom he counted as intimate friends, Rush exemplified the enlightenment spirit. His curiosity extended beyond medicine into politics, mental health, and public education, and like other enlightenment intellectuals, he put his knowledge into action. Because of his persuasiveness, John Witherspoon left Scotland to accept the presidency of Princeton University. As a Pennsylvania delegate to Congress, Rush signed the Declaration of Independence and later became George Washington's surgeon general during the Revolutionary War. A vociferous opponent of slavery and capital punishment, Rush facilitated the rapprochement between John Adams and Jefferson in their final years. VERDICT Based extensively on Rush's personal papers and writings, Fried's study succeeds in making a dynamic patriot accessible yet falls short in immersing our imagination in Rush's world.--Glen Edward Taul, formerly with Campbellsville Univ., KY

      Copyright 2018 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

    • Booklist

      September 1, 2018
      Best-selling, award-winning journalist and author Fried (Appetite for America, 2010) illuminates the importance of a lesser-known Founding Father, drawing on previously unpublished primary sources. Young doctor Benjamin Rush bravely signed the Declaration of Independence yet hesitated to get directly involved in politics afterwards, choosing instead his own progressive missions. He was George Washington's surgeon general, had good relationships with John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and found a mentor in Benjamin Franklin. Fried reveals Rush's groundbreaking accomplishments as a lifelong advocate of patients' medical rights and the advancement of medicine. Rush often spoke in favor of and worked hard to achieve better medical treatment and sanitation for American soldiers and improved living conditions for those with mental illnesses. He fought against the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793, though his methods of treatment were controversial. Valiant, compassionate, and determined, Rush was a vocal opponent of slavery and actively supported African American rights. Fried's reclamation of this important, overlooked American founder is an invaluable addition to American history collections and a solid recommendation to biography fans.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2018, American Library Association.)

    • H.W. Brands, author of The First American and Heirs of the Founders "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."
    • Jonathan Eig, author of Ali: A Life "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."
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