BrilliantFranklin was brilliant. Everyone agreed.


Napoleonic in both stature and demeanor, Franklin, quite frankly, was enigmatic. His presence was anticipated long before he walked into the room, both by the tell-tale sound of his strutting gait and the cloud of chain-smoke that preceded him. Occasionally a disembodied voice, godlike except for its high-pitched squeal, would trundle down the hallway through the open door long before any physical manifestation arrived. Franklin was deep into conversation without knowing whether anyone was even present to hear him.

But he was brilliant. Everyone agreed.


Was he? Sure, Franklin could be brilliant, as can we all. Perhaps he was brilliant more often than the rest of us. Perhaps he simply had no outside activity to distract him from constant study of his profession. Perhaps it was a ruse to cover deep-seated insecurities.

I couldn’t help thinking of the Rain Man, a film about an autistic savant played by diminutive Dustin Hoffman. Not that Franklin was a savant, mind you, far from it. Perhaps somewhere else on the autism spectrum, in the range of what used to be called Asperger’s syndrome.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the brilliance that everyone saw was merely our own social bias. Rather than accept Asperger’s, we unconsciously translated oddity into omniscience, eccentricity into excellence.

Perhaps we’ll never know. Quite. Franklin.

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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