I am so excited to share my review of The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris by Steve M. Gnatz.Thank you to The Coffee Pot Book Club for your invite to take part in the tour.
The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris
By Steve M. Gnatz
A WORLD OF ENLIGHTENMENT, REVOLUTION, AND INTRIGUE
1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician.
Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.
A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim.
The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.
Whenever I agree to read a book about a subject or time period that I am not incredibly familiar with, I rely on the author to both teach and entertain me, to inform me about the events while capturing my interest. This book is indeed educational, and when I sat down to read it, I was incredibly excited to learn more about both Benjamin Franklin and Franz Mesmer.
There is a common ground between both Franklin and Mesmer, and that is Marianne Davies. Marianne had an affair with Ben some years before the start of the book, and Mesmer has discovered what he calls magnétisme animale, which can heal the unwell. Marianne, suffering from frequent bouts of melancholia, turns to Mesmer when it seems his new discovery may give her a chance at escaping the illness that plagues her.
What I really liked about this book was learning about the scepticism many had about scientific discoveries, and how much religion directly opposed science. With Franklin trying to learn about, and harness, electricity, there are those who would say that such things are controlled by God, and, indeed, that things such as medicine cannot be trusted, and instead, faith should be the thing to heal someone. With a modern-day outlook on such things, it is easy to imagine how frustrating it was for scientists to try and prove their findings to people who would simply turn and look the other way.
Mesmer’s methods of healing were incredibly interesting to read about. Even after doing some research, I do not fully understand the practice, although the conclusion I have come to is that it is very similar (if not another name for) hypnotism. The ways that Marianne experience this gave an insight into why those who had experienced it believed and almost worshipped the practice, while others were sceptical and couldn’t trust that there were no ill intents.
I know very little about Benjamin Franklin, and I do not recall ever having learnt anything about Franz Mesmer, so this book was something that I was looking forward to. I wanted to know more about these people and how their paths crossed. What I was not expecting, not knowing the history, was that Benjamin Franklin is in his 70s during this book. There were several scenes that I did not enjoy, in particular the sexual relations that Franklin pursues, especially with women much younger than him. Marianne is only 32, and it bothered me immensely when reading about their intimate relationship.
This book is very long, and although it is also the kind of book wherein the process of reading it is seemingly very quick, it took me a very long time to finish and I think that was because I had a hard time connecting with the characters. That being said, if you are interested about the subjects of this book, you should definitely grab a copy, as the author clearly knows the history well and the explanations are both in-depth and easy to understand at the same time.
Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.
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