Rush by Stephen Fried


Stephen Fried

Drawing on a trove of previously unpublished letters and images, Stephen Fried resurrects Benjamin Rush, the Founding Father we’ve never heard of and finally installs Dr. Rush in the pantheon of great American leaders.

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The monumental life of Benjamin Rush, medical pioneer and one of our 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.
From improbable beginnings as the son of a Philadelphia blacksmith, Rush grew into an internationally renowned writer, reformer, and medical pioneer who touched virtually every page in the story of the nation’s founding. He was Franklin’s protégé, the editor of Common Sense, and Washington’s surgeon general. He was a fierce progressive agitator—a vocal opponent of slavery and prejudice by race, religion or gender, a champion of public education—even as his convictions threatened his name and career, time and again. He was a confidante, and often the physician, of America’s first leaders; he brokered the twilight peace between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. As a doctor, he became “the American Hippocrates,” whose brilliant, humane insights and institutional reforms revolutionized the understanding and treatment of mental illness in ways that still reverberate.
Like the greatest Revolutionary minds, Dr. Benjamin Rush recognized that 1776 was only the beginning of the American experiment. Rush brings new drama to his singular life and towering legacy, finally installing him in the pantheon of our wisest and boldest Founding Fathers.

Advance Galley Reviews

A very interesting and well done look into Benjamin Rush, among the youngest to sign the Declaration. I previously didn't know much about him beyond that so this book was a very intriguing thing to me. I definitely don't spend enough time looking into to our founding fathers so I enjoy books like this that allow me to. I definitely enjoyed reading this.

Once upon a time, I lived in Rushville, Indiana, in Rush County and home of Benjamin Rush Middle School, so I knew more than the average American about Benjamin Rush before running across this biography. I was excited to see it, since I've never read much about him other than surface-level timelines. Fried brings together the different vocations of Benjamin Rush: doctor, man of science, revolutionary, father, husband, friend and advisor. Like most real humans, Benjamin Rush had some faults and made some mistakes. He also did some pretty remarkable things, from recommending health-related policies to save lives in the revolutionary army to fundamentally improving medicine's view of mental illness from something indicating spiritual doom to something studiable and treatable, an illness of humans with souls. Rush haunts the footnotes of history and was well connected throughout the revolution to names we all already know. He was close friends with John Adams and Franklin and corresponded with Jefferson. He was a cordial acquaintance with Washington until he made a grave mistake and ran afoul of Washington during the war. He collaborated with Thomas Paine on "Common Sense". After John Dickenson left the 2nd Continental Congress because he could not in good faith sign the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Rush stepped in and signed on behalf of Pennsylvania. After the war, Rush founded a College and named it after his fellow Pennsylvanian instead of after himself (Dickenson College). He was responsible for reconciling Adams and Jefferson late in their lives. He was also instrumental in establishing the first African American churches in Philadelphia, something that took me by surprise. But the subjects I found most intriguing was the story I didn't already know: the development of medicine at that age. When Rush started, there were no medical schools in the Americas; it was an apprenticed career he got into after graduating from Princeton. He later served as a chemistry professor and later a general medical professor at the medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, helping to establish that school. There were great debates about whether blood letting was really such a great idea (Rush was firmly in the blood letting camp). He served tirelessly during the yellow fever epidemics of the late 1700s in Philadelphia and worked to figure out what would cure it and what caused it (he never figured it out, but the efforts in his note-taking were interesting). There was a debate about medicine versus the knife for addressing tumors (he advocated surgery to remove tumors as soon as possible). He railed against the insanity of duels. And he wrote about all kinds of "manias" in human life, principally that of alcohol, which took so many lives. He clearly wasn't a super easy man to get along with. He had feuds with Washington and then with Hamilton (although his sons became fast friends with Hamilton's sons). He was often criticized in the media of the day for both his politics and his medical practices. But Fried showed Rush to be worthy of a great deal of praise and having influence over a great deal of what we take for granted today. The book details both Adams and Rush being worried about their children (primarily their sons) and dealing with heartbreak related to them, and in the conclusion tells us that John Quincy Adams and Richard Rush ran for President and Vice-President well after the deaths of their fathers. I'm not usually a huge biography fan, since they often drag on with minute detail, but this one included so much of the big picture of early America and early medicine/psychology that I thoroughly enjoyed it. I got a free copy to review from First to Read.

Thank you to Penguin's First To Read for providing an advance reader's copy of RUSH: Revolution, Madness and the Visionary Doctor who became a Founding Father. How good is this book? I am now going to buy a copy to have on my bookshelf for reference and to introduce others to the story of Dr. Benjamin Rush. If you enjoy history/biography this is a book you need to try. If you don't normally find history interesting, take a look at this one, you could be in for a treat. If only history text-books could make the past come alive the way Rush does, a lot more students would find history enjoyable. Dr. Benjamin Rush is not as well known as other Founding Fathers and that is a shame. Author Stephen Fried weaves a narrative that is compelling, entertaining and informative. Excellently researched then written so well you can just imagine being in Philadelphia at the moment the United States was born. But of course Rush was involved in more than politics and civic affairs, he was a moving force in medicine as well. An excellent book that deserves a wide audience.

The sort of person who would risk everything for a cause is an intriguing character, and Benjamin Rush is one such historical figure. There is more to this biography, however, than an exploration of the surface, and that is what makes this book so hard to put down. Author Stephen Fried delves into the petty bickering and posturing often seen among the ambitious. He not only presents Benjamin Rush as a driven invidual, but provides much of the backstory as the physician to the American Colonial forces pushed to have his theories on proper medical care put into place. The backstabbing via letters makes for an interesting read. The subject is studied exhaustively, using correspondence to fully flesh out the man and his times. This is the sort of book you want for a cold winter's weekend, when you want to sink into an historical period and gain more insight into the founding of a nation through one of the men who brought it about. They were so very human, those Founding Fathers, and that makes this treatment of Benjamin Rush that much more fascinating.

Who was Benjamin Rush? Dr. Rush was one of the most interesting men you have probably never heard of. He was a native of Philadelphia that became a doctor, and dedicated years of his life to building the foundation of the United States. He was a prolific writer, he penned speeches, books, pamphlets, and rough drafts of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He wrote medical journals, possibly the first American one ever written. He treated soldiers of the Revolution, other Founding Fathers, the mentally insane, and was even the advising doctor for the Lewis & Clark expedition. Dr. Rush was a forward thinking man of honor and integrity, he fought for the rights and well being of others. He believed that women should be educated in all subjects, and when they were, it benefited their husbands and families, as well as themselves. He was an abolitionist that helped establish the first black church in the US. He fought to improve the care for wounded soldiers as well as the mentally insane. Many of the regulations he had put in place for these improvements are still in practice today. He was ahead of his time in thinking that disease was spread through the circulatory system even though germs and viruses wouldn't be discovered for another century. He believed addiction was a medical issue, not a problem of low morals. Stephen Fried has sifted through untold historical documents to bring us the story of this amazing man. Rush is an engaging book about American history, covering information on many of people of the time. It is like stepping back in history.

This was such an interesting biography, and I loved the narrative nonfiction style. I felt like I was living alongside him. I have been particularly interested in founding fathers since the uprising of popularity of Alexander Hamilton. It fascinates me to think about how much of history has been forgotten by society and how much more will be forgotten in the future. This was excellent to read in that light.

This was an excellent and well-deserved biography of a long-neglected Founding Father. Dr. Rush was a friend to most of the notable personalities who have been treated thus for a long time and his own role has remained less-known. Dr. Rush was not just as a connector among those politicians and thinkers, including Franklin and Adams and Jefferson among many others, but was also in his own right an early American pioneer in public health, abolition, psychiatry and mental health, and republican ideals. In fact, the author takes the time in the Afterword to explain why Dr. Rush has remained so long out of the spotlight, and why he's finally getting his due attention. I learned a great deal about Dr. Rush and his compatriots, from before the Declaration of Independence through the early 1800s, from this work. I would heartily recommend this biography to anyone who is interested in the founders and their era of U.S. history.

Fascinating study of a lesser known founder of not only The United States but his early interest in the mentally ill lead to more humane treatment for many. An intrepid medical investigator, clear headed & thoughtful man who brought clarity to many other founders. I found it very readable, enjoyed the vignettes from other founders, and learned a lot. I hope that his recently available papers will lead to more books about Dr. Rush. This is good place to start. Highly recommended for insight into our nation's founding,

I received this book for free from First to Read for an honest review. I did not know much about Benjamin Rush before I read this book. I was really surprised to learn he signed The Declaration of Independence. Have read a number of books lately about The American Revolution and the drafting of the Constitution from overdrive so this book was very interesting to read. Stephen Fried and his researchers did a lot of work to make this book possible. While the book is quite long, I felt the author organized the information very well. I did find some mistakes that another careful editing review should catch. Enjoyed reading about Rush's work with mental illness and his medical career. Learned so much about this "forgotten" Founding Father. I would definitely recommend this book. It was a relatively easy read that did not take as long as I thought it would considering the length. Loved the epitaph at the end when the author talked about sources.

Excellent insight into a forgotten, or a deliberately forgotten, founding father. Well written, well paced, this book provides a great glimpse into the dawning of our country and one of the men who forged the Revolutionary War and the future United States

I did not know who Benjamin Rush was, so I looked forward to reading this book. Even though the pace is quick, I just couldn't stay interested, so didn't finish it. Guess I wasn't in the mood for a non-fiction after all. Thanks for the chance to read what I did.

Interesting read about a perhaps forgotten Founding Father. Before reading this book I didn't know much about Dr. Rush although I am familiar with Rush University and its hospitals. I don't normally go for books that are 500+ pages long, but author Stephen Fried did an excellent job keeping a decent pace to his work that made it seem much shorter. Definitely a recommended read for anyone interested in American history or History of Medicine.

I knew so little about Benjamin Rush, other than his name. I had no idea he contributed so much towards medicine, mental health, and various social problems. This book is well researched, exhaustive in the information it provides and written in an accessible manner. I enjoyed reading Rush and learning about another founding father.

I admit that like I suppose many, I knew little of Benjamin Rush. Now, thanks to First to Read and the publisher, I know more through an Uncorrected Proof ebook of this book. Stephen Fried has compiled a lengthy, and informative, story of Rush's life. It's an easy read, if, as I noted, lengthy, and it flows well. Fried even offers a couple of cliffhanger teasers (more on that...) It must have taken an extraordinary amount of time, reading and distillation to go through the seemingly mountainous volume of letters and writings of Rush. I got a kick out of a side note of when Franklin sent with Rush - following Rush's schooling in Edinburgh and OJT in London - letters of introduction when he traveled to France, and Rush's first contact was a Dr. Jacques Dubourg, who had translated Franklin's scientific writings into French. Dubourg, Fried says, apparently "dabbled in invention himself and would go on to create the first - and probably only - parasol equipped with a lightning rod." And another kick came at the end of the book in the Afterword: Fried mentioned a 1945 biographer's 35 page book of an analysis of Rush letters that was "not much longer than it's [67 word] title." A prolific writer, Rush churned out pamphlets, books, sermons, speeches and Fried must have gone through a great many of them. Another chuckle, Fried references Rush's Sermons to Gentlemen Upon Temperance and Exercise as something that might just be the first American self-help book. Rush had issue with young adults drinking wine and spirits (except as medicinally prescribed) but he thought that "three or four glasses in a sitting, could contribute to good health." I'll risk a lengthy quote though my copy was an uncorrected proof: Wine is principally useful to old people, or such as are in the decline of life. It is hard to fix the limits between the beginning of old age, and the close of manhood. At a medium, the body begins to decline at the age of forty-five or fifty in this climate. Then the hot fit fever of life begins to abate, and from the many disappointments in love - friendship - ambition or trade, which most of men meet with by the time they arrive at this age, they generally feel a heavy heart. The decay of the vital heat - the slowness of the pulse - the diminution of the strength, all show that the vigour of the system is declining. Here wine prolongs the strength and powers of nature. It is the grave of past misfortunes - In a word, it is another name for philosophy. Remember, my aged hearers, if you would expect to enjoy a long reprieve from the infirmities of age, you must begin to use wine moderately, and increase the quantity of it as you descend into the valley of life. There you have it! drink wine as you get older! Chapter 10 ends with the first cliffhanger (that I took notice of): "Some years later, Washington and Rush would look back on that twenty-four hour period in late October 1774 and wonder how they could have been both so right and so wrong about each other." I'll leave the follow on to the reader to learn the answer. I've read a few books that cast aside any notions romanticizing the civility of both sides during the Revolutionary War, but one reference Fried made stuck out, about a brutal British attack that "according to many reports, violated all norms of combat." Rush could be quite visionary. He had 18th century medical limitations, but his direct experience with mental illness and attempts to treat it over much of his career offered reflections on causation that were eye opening for me...I was not aware how early actual treatment attempts happened. That diseases of the mind weren't failures of will was rather progressive. Of course, those limitations reuired treatments of the day like bloodletting, so there's that. His views on education pushed creation of free public schools that taught not just young men, but young women. Visionary and revolutionary. His views on corporal punishment were equally progressive ("....corporal Corrections for children above three or four years old are highly improper.") As progressive as he could be, he was still hamstrung by his religion, thinking that "Christianity exerts the most friendly influence upon science, as well as upon the morals and manners of mankind.", never realizing the flaws in that. He progressively thought that all history "is a romance, and romance is the only true history", but was hoist yet again with his limitations when he excepted that which was contained in the Bible. He endured his own Breitbart of the day when a man named William Cobbett published all sorts of libel under the name of Peter Porcupine (Rush won in court.) The depth of investigation for this book is impressive. Fried and his researchers found Navy records of Rush's son John that Rush did not seem to know about. And they gleaned a lot more sources - the correspondence between John Adams and Rush alone was hundreds upon hundreds of letters. Quite impressive. For the publisher, I didn't keep track of many of the missed words that I expect were picked up in the final edit, but page 129, the opening paragraph of chapter 13 didn't make sense:"...showed Rush a letter she had considered almost a daughter..." I suspect "received from someone she" should be in there between the "she had". An engaging, informative read.

I received this book in exchange for an honest review. I was surprised by the length of the volume, and more impressed still as I read of his accomplishments. He was a very prolific writer and despite the amount that has been lost over time, the remaining amount is amazing. He seems to have been a fairly humble man who had much to contribute to his world. We as a society today have much reason to celebrate his contributions to our knowledge base. He was a highly passionate individual who could foresee a future for his beloved country and I don’t believe truly understood the influence he would have on the fledgling United States that he helped to create. A truly worthy patriarch. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of medicine, psychiatry, the military and politics during the turbulent beginnings of the country.

Just reading the Preface in Stephen Fried's new biography Rush: Revolution, Madness and the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father I was shocked by the breadth and depth of Rush's accomplishments. It is hard to believe how ignorant we are about Rush's lasting contributions. I had come across Benjamin Rush in my readings on the Revolution and Founding Fathers and was interested in learning more about the man. Fried's book has made me a lasting and enthusiastic fan of this Philadelphia physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Rush knew all the big names of his time period. His friends included Benjamin Franklin, John Addams, and Thomas Jefferson. He encouraged Thomas Paine to write Common Sense. Adams wrote that Rush had contributed more to the Revolution than Franklin! It was Rush who pressured Adams and Jefferson to reconnect after years of alienation. As a physician, he championed humane treatment for the mentally ill and identified addiction as a medical, not a moral, condition. During the yellow fever epidemic of 1793 when 10% of the population died, Rush courageously stayed in Philadelphia. Many doctors fled the city along with anyone else who had somewhere else to go. The African American community came out to assist; it was thought they were immune to the disease! Rush saw war and the disease and injuries that took lives. He triaged troops and was with Washington when he crossed the Delaware and at battlefields including Brandywine, Trenton, and Princeton. He knew that more soldiers died from sickness than the sword and created standards of hygiene for the military, including the first military buzz-cut. Rush was a practicing physician. He lived in before we understood viruses and bacteria and bleeding and purgatives were employed. He was called to educate and outfit Lewis and Clark for their expedition. His purgative known as Rush's Pills included mercury, which has helped us track Lewis and Clark's journey! Rush thought up the circular surgical theater. He was a life long educator, medical writer and lecturer. He founded Dickinson College to bring higher education to rural Pennsylvania and campaigned for free public education. An ardent abolitionist, Rush supported the founding of the first African Methodist Church. He was a dedicated Christian who supported the separation of church and state while maintaining the importance of faith as a moral guide. Rush knew that when the war was over, the real work of founding a nation would begin which needed to balance "science, religion, liberty and good government." Rush married the daughter of another Declaration signer, Julia Stockton. They had thirteen children. Rush was a devoted and loving husband and father, but his illustrious fame and high standards were hard to live up to. His son became an alcoholic who ended up hospitalized, a 'madman' who was studied by the actor Edwin Forrest while preparing for his breakout role as King Lear. Another son, Richard, was close to John Quincy Adams and became his vice presidential candidate and he was commissioned to collect the James Smithson trust money which funded the Smithsonian. Fried's chapter on what happened to Rush's papers and letters explains why he disappeared from memory until mid-2oth c. Julia Rush's most treasured and private letters by her husband were in the family until 1975 when they were donated to the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia. The story of Rush's life was exciting to read. As a popular history, I found it very accessible and quick reading. A Goodreads friend told me that Rush was her favorite Founding Father. It appears he was John Adams' favorite as well, judging by his response to Rush's death as recorded by Abigal, which Fried includes in the book: "O my friend, my friend, my ancient, my constant, my unshaken friend! My brother, art thou gone? Gone forever Who can estimate thy worth, who can appreciate thy loss? To thy country, to thy family, to thy friends, to science, to literature, to the world at large? To a character which in every relation of life shone resplendent?" John Adams upon the death of Rush as reported by Abigal Adams "...a better man than Rush, could not have left us, more benevolent, more learned, of finer genius, or more honest." Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams "I know of no Character living or dead who has done more real good in America." John Adams response to Thomas Jefferson's letter I received a free ebook through First to Read in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.


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