In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, science was the pursuit of gentlemen and tradesmen, amateurs who also sought posts as government officials or dealt in commerce. Such a man was Benjamin Thompson, born a farmer's son in Massachusetts. He failed as a merchant's clerk, but eventually became a British statesman and diplomat and then was dubbed Count Rumford of Bavaria. How a poor colonial became a peer on the European continent is a pretty good story involving a good bit of deception and exploitation of political advantage. British chemist G.I. Brown tells the story in Scientist, Soldier, Statesman, Spy: Count Rumford: The Extraordinary Life of a Scientific Genius.
Count Rumford is pretty much forgotten today, but, as a scientist, he conducted some vital experiments on heat and light. One of his achievements was proving that heat was not an invisible weightless fluid that flowed between objects. While that may now seem obvious, it was a prevailing belief at the time. He wrote papers that now sound very dry to read, but he was a scientific mover and shaker, being a founder of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, an organization dedicated to scientific teaching and application of science to social reform.
Thompson fled the American colonies during the Revolution when he was unmasked as a British spy. Using his charm in London, he became an upper level bureaucrat, made some money through his political appointments, and bought a commission in the British Army. He worked on improving British weapons. Later in life he was sought as a military leader by several countries that did not realize that he had never actually been on a battlefield. He also maintained many romantic affairs in London, Paris, and Munich.
Scientist, Soldier, Statesman, Spy: Count Rumford: The Extraordinary Life of a Scientific Genius is a British publication but it seems to have been distributed fairly well in the U.S. It is a quick biographical read with a bit of science and engineering included. At times I would have liked a little more detail on some of the Count's exploits, but the book is enjoyable. It is a good pick for readers who like goodhearted rogues.
Brown, G.I. Scientist, Soldier, Statesman, Spy: Count Rumford: The Extraordinary Life of a Scientific Genius. Sutton Pubishing, 1999. ISBN 0750921846