Today, while Franklin remains an undisputed giant of the Revolutionary generation, the other Benjamin eulogized by Adams and Jefferson is largely forgotten outside the ranks of historians and medical specialists. Now two authors—award-winning journalist Stephen Fried and seasoned historical biographer Harlow Giles Unger—have produced sympathetic and readable reassessments of Rush’s remarkable career, intended to secure what they consider to be his rightful place as a leading Founding Father ... Both rely heavily upon Rush’s prodigious output of publications and his lively and wide-ranging personal correspondence. Their books reveal a dedicated humanitarian with an enduring influence upon American medicine, not least through the estimated 3,000 doctors that he trained. Yet neither author ignores the contradictions in Rush’s character, flaws that mired him in controversy and that help to explain why he still requires rehabilitation.
This publication details many of the contributions made by Rush during his life in fields that range from human medicine and disease, veterinary medicine, psychiatry, and geriatrics to prison reform, temperance, and humane treatment for the mentally ill. Further, he was also a veteran of the Continental Army and a political leader in Pennsylvania with all that that entails in terms of partisanship following the establishment of political parties in the Republic’s early years ... In an age of towering literary, political and military giants such as Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Washington, and others, it is indeed surprising that Rush should be as little remembered as he is by most Americans. Perhaps this biography can right this and return him to the pantheon of our greatest Founding Fathers.
[Unger] demonstrate[s] how Rush seemed equally ahead of and behind his times in medical and social issues ... enjoyable...and successfully present[s] a man who never quit, even in the face of failure or public humiliation.
Unger 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 ... 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.'