By Frances Ashcroft
W.W. Norton & Company, $28.95, 339 pages
Contrary to popular belief, it was not Benjamin Franklin who first demonstrated that lightning was a form of electricity, but Frenchman Thomas-François Dalibard whose experiment was inspired by an essay written by Franklin. But the study of electricity stretches back to ancient times, as Frances Ashcroft shows in The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body.
“For our thoughts and emotions, our feelings of self, reflect a maelstrom of electrical signals whirling around the brain. Mary Shelley was closer to the truth than she perhaps appreciated when she inferred that electricity is the spark of life.”
Ashcroft writes short sections spanning the subjects of electricity and humans: how we’ve studied it, how our bodies are electric and how various diseases are caused by bacteria and viruses that interrupt theses channels. Many fascinating tidbits about electricity can be found within the pages. Did you know that an electric eel can power the lights on a Japanese Christmas tree?
Although Ashcroft writes about modern bioelectricity, she focuses on the historical science. There’s only a passing allusion to current studies, such as biofeedback, electromagnetic frequencies and ways electricity affects the human body.
This is an interesting book for science aficionados who love learning but don’t understand the jargon and aren’t looking to plumb the depths of a certain subject.
Reviewed by Sarah Hutchins