May 15, 2013 Jonathan Lyons to Discuss "The Society for Useful Knowledge: How Benjamin Franklin and Friends Brought the Enlightenment to America"

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Benjamin Franklin and his contemporaries introduced America to the Enlightenment—an intellectual revolution that laid the foundation for the political one that followed, according to historian Jonathan Lyons.

With the initial drudgery of settling the American colonies accomplished, Franklin announced in 1743 that it was high time the colonists set about improving the lot of humankind through collaborative inquiry. From Franklin’s idea emerged the American Philosophical Society, an association headquartered in Philadelphia and dedicated to harnessing man’s intellectual and creative powers for the common good.

Lyons will discuss his new book, “The Society for Useful Knowledge: How Benjamin Franklin and Friends Brought the Enlightenment to America,” at the Library of Congress at noon on Thursday, June 13 in the Mary Pickford Theater on the third floor of the James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington DC.

Free and open to the public, the lecture is sponsored by the Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Division. A book sale and signing will follow.

Lyons’ book tells the story of America’s coming of age through its embrace of practical invention, applied science, and self-reliance. It offers fresh insights into such figures as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, and the inimitable, endlessly inventive Franklin, and provides a new perspective on the founding of America. Lyons illustrates how the movement for useful knowledge is key to understanding the flow of American society and culture from colonial times to the present day.

Lyons also is the author of The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization (2009). He served as an editor and foreign correspondent for Reuters for more than 20 years. He holds a doctorate in sociology, and has taught at George Mason University, Georgetown University, and Monash University in Australia.

The Humanities and Social Sciences Division provides reference service and collection development in the Main, Local History and Genealogy, and Microform and Machine Readable Collections reading rooms at the Library of Congress. It regularly sponsors programs in the arts, humanities and social sciences.

The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 155 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at


PR 13-098
ISSN 0731-3527