cover image Dr. Benjamin Rush: The Founding Father Who Healed a Wounded Nation

Dr. Benjamin Rush: The Founding Father Who Healed a Wounded Nation

Harlow Giles Unger. Da Capo, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-306-82432-6

Unger (Henry Clay: America’s Greatest Statesman) offers a useful biography of a lesser-known Founding Father, but his treatment of his subject lacks the nuance and depth of Stephen Fried’s superior offering, Rush: Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father. Unger walks readers through the main points of Rush’s life, starting with his medical education in Scotland and his early career as a doctor in Philadelphia. The author’s choices about how much attention to pay to certain events are not always logical; for example, he spends about as much space on medical pioneer Galen’s basis for believing that bloodletting was beneficial as on Rush’s role in shaping Thomas Paine’s writing of Common Sense, providing no information on the wide impact that pamphlet had. Unger does give Rush’s thinking about the relationship of mind and body, which led to his being dubbed the “father of American psychiatry” by the American Psychiatric Association, more prominence than Fried does. Despite the book’s flaws, it is a valuable introduction to a man justifiably characterized as “the founding father of an America that other founding fathers forgot—an America of women, slaves, indentured workers, laborers, prisoners, the poor, the indigent sick and injured.” (Sept.)