A Founding Father’s Hypnotic Sidequest
Mesmerized is a gorgeously illustrated book with a strong Middle Grade appeal. It’s a fascinating tidbit of history blended with foundational science—an appealing balance of subtle teaching and masterful storytelling.
This true-to-life story follows Benjamin Franklin’s visit to France in the midst of the American Revolution. Famous for proving that lightening is a form of electricity, Franklin hopes to use his novel influence to sway the King and Queen of France into providing war aid. As it turns out, there is something the King and Queen need his help with. A mysterious man named Dr. Mesmer is making a fortune off of his seeming ability to command people’s perceptions, driving medical doctors to distress and nearly everyone to distraction. But is this “power” mystical, or merely suggestion?
The book covers the base concept of how to employ the scientific method: Hypothesis, Testing, Observation, and Conclusion. While the telling uses a few wording choices that essentially vilify Dr. Mesmer’s conduct, it does end by giving him credit for his inadvertent contributions to medical science. By way of the non-fictional plot, it ultimately demonstrates how “blind testing” came to be utilized, and how legitimately powerful the placebo effect can be.
Rockcliff’s style makes keen use of flavorful wording and variable font sizes to get her points across—without any hint of a dry textbook ambiance. Coming in at 45 pages of whimsical diversity and widely ranging content density, this story is well suited to children between the ages (or comprehension level) of 8 to 12 years. In addition, adults will easily be able to appreciate its offerings—as the delivery is charming, and it has the potential to fill in a learning gap for those of us who missed this fascinating slice of historical truth.