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Count Rumford: Inventor, Traitor

Yankee Plus Dec 2015


Count Rumford: Inventor, Traitor
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The Count of Concord
Photo/Art by Heath Robbins
Franklin D. Roosevelt, it is said, counted as the three most brilliant Americans Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Thompson of Concord, New Hampshire. Benjamin who?

Well might one ask, and the most enjoyable way to find out arrives in the form of Nicholas Delbanco’s The Count of Concord (Dalkey Archive Press, $34.95), a novel about a novelty: the New England farm boy who chose the wrong side in the American Revolution, became a British officer and a spy, Count Rumford of the Holy Roman Empire, and inventor of the Rumford fireplace, among dozens of other innovations.

“He was at ease with fire,” says Delbanco of his subject, and heat — physical, political, sexual — agitates his elegant, elaborate, elliptical prose: “Kind critic, look on Rumford’s work — those great sprawling edifices, the mighty schemes and verdant paths, the brilliant chevaliers and ladies, the pamphlets and machinery and battlements all come to dust — and ask yourself unblinkingly: how have I failed, how must I change my life?”

I raced through the novel. I can’t say I understood all of it, but I sure enjoyed the ride. Read it for the history. Read it for the science. Read it for the sex. Read it for the astonishing richness of one man’s real and imagined life.

Find out why Rumfords are the best fireplaces.

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Tim Clark


Tim Clark


Tim Clark has been writing for Yankee Magazine and The Old Farmer's Almanac since 1975. Subjects of his many Yankee profiles have included filmmaker Ken Burns, historian Barbara Tuchman, pediatrician and political activist Dr. Benjamin Spock, and World War II General James Gavin. Tim left his job as Managing Editor in 1999 to teach English at ConVal High School in Peterborough, N.H. for 13 years, but since retiring from that demanding and rewarding profession in 2012, he has continued to contribute articles and book reviews. Tim lives in Dublin, N.H., two miles from the offices of Yankee Publishing, and serves as Town Moderator, a post previously occupied by Rob Sagendorph, the founder of Yankee Magazine.

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