Synopses & Reviews
In this brilliantly conceived and written biography, Pulitzer Prize-winning Kenneth Silverman gives us the long and amazing life of the man eulogized by the New York Herald
in 1872 as "perhaps the most illustrious American of his age."
Silverman presents Samuel Morse in all his complexity. There is the gifted and prolific painter (more than three hundred portraits and larger historical canvases) and pioneer photographer, who gave the first lectures on art in America, became the first Professor of Fine Arts at an American college (New York University), and founded the National Academy of Design. There is the republican idealist, prominent in antebellum politics, who ran for Congress and for mayor of New York. But most important, there is the inventor of the American electromagnetic telegraph, which earned Morse the name Lightning Man and brought him the fame he sought.
In these pages, we witness the evolution of the great invention from its inception as an idea to its introduction to the world an event that astonished Morse's contemporaries and was considered the supreme expression of the country's inventive genius. We see how it transformed commerce, journalism, transportation, military affairs, diplomacy, and the very shape of daily life, ushering in the modern era of communication.
But we discover as well that Morse viewed his existence as accursed rather than illustrious, his every achievement seeming to end in loss and defeat: his most ambitious canvases went unsold; his beloved republic imploded into civil war, making it unlivable for him; and the commercial success of the telegraph engulfed him in lawsuits challenging the originality and ownership of his invention.
Lightning Man is the first biography of Samuel F. B. Morse in sixty years. It is a revelation of the life of a fascinating and profoundly troubled American genius.
"A superbly rendered life of the painter, sculptor, and photographer best known as the inventor of the electromagnetic telegraph....A first-rate, well-balanced blend of personal and cultural history." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"Silverman has proved himself a masterful biographer....Set in his times, the man in full arises in Silverman's exemplary biography." Gilbert Taylor, Booklist (Starred and Boxed Review)
"[A] captivating tale of an accomplished portrait painter turned inventor of the telegraph....Lightning Man is already a long book, but it is one of those long books that a reader wishes were still longer." Los Angeles Times
"Readers who prefer historical biography to contemporary biography ought to find much pleasure in this new version of Morse's life." Orlando Sentinel
"In Lightning Man, the historian Kenneth Silverman lays out with great thoroughness the troubled busy life of Samuel F. B. Morse, the telegraph's inventor." Richard Brookhiser, New York Times
This brilliantly conceived biography is the very American tale of a quiet man, raised by religious zealots, who became a gifted and prolific painter (more than three hundred portraits and historical canvases), became the first Professor of Fine Arts at an American college, and founded the National Academy of Design. A classic overachiever, this was simply not enough for Samuel F. B. Morse; he subsequently ran for Congress and mayor of New York. Lastly, in his most famous life's work, he invented a machine that was to transform commerce, communication, transportation, military affairs, diplomacy, and the course of the modern world. What invention could be so revolutionary? The telegraph, of course-and the eponymous Morse code. Here is the story of an incredible invention, and an engrossing life, by a Bancroft- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author.
A "superb" (Wall Street Journal biography by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author on the "most illustrious American of his age"-the painter-turned-inventor Samuel F.B. Morse
About the Author
Born and raised in Manhattan, Kenneth Silverman is Professor Emeritus of English at New York University. His other books include Timothy Dwight, A Cultural History of the American Revolution, The Life and Times of Cotton Mather, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-ending Remembrance, and Houdini!!!: The Career of Ehrich Weiss. He is the winner of the Bancroft Prize in American History, the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America, and the Christopher Literary Award of the Society of American Magicians.