cover image The Count of Concord

The Count of Concord

Nicholas Delbanco, . . Dalkey Archive, $34.95 (478pp) ISBN 978-1-56478-495-7

From humble beginnings in colonial New Hampshire through to the courts of imperial Europe, Delbanco (Spring and Fall ) imaginatively maps the deeds, misdeeds and accomplishments of the real-life polymath Benjamin Thompson (1753–1814), an American contemporary of Franklin and Jefferson, and their equal in scientific inquiry and sociological (if not philosophical) thought. Thompson has been neglected by American history because he was a Tory—i.e., he sided with the British during the Revolution—who was eventually made a count of the Holy Roman Empire under Francis II. Delbanco covers that material nicely, but is equally interested in Thompson's cunning study of household thermodynamics and horticulture, and his invention of such appliances as roasters and coffee pots. Along the way, Delbanco celebrates Thompson's social reforms and innovation (Thompson patented none of his gadgets, believing that they should belong to the poor) and his military genius, while casually detailing the married Thompson's libertine lifestyle and varied sexual peccadilloes. Unfortunately, the story is told from the point of view of Sally Ormsby Thompson Robinson, Thompson's fictional present-day descendant: her rat-a-tat voice is often intrusive, and the whole ends up more a collection of variously colorful set pieces than a character-driven novel. (May)