Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who winks at us. An ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings, he seems made of flesh rather than of marble. In bestselling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin seems to turn to us from history's stage with eyes that twinkle from behind his new-fangled spectacles. By bringing Franklin to life, Isaacson shows how he helped to define both his own time and ours.He was, during his 84-year life, America's best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategist, and he was also one of its most practical—though not most profound—political thinkers. He proved by flying a kite that lightning was electricity, and he invented a rod to tame it. He sought practical ways to make stoves less smoky and commonwealths less corrupt. He organized neighborhood constabularies and international alliances, local lending libraries and national legislatures. He combined two types of lenses to create bifocals and two concepts of representation to foster the nation's federal compromise. He was the only man who shaped all the founding documents of America: the Albany Plan of Union, the Declaration of Independence, the treaty of alliance with France, the peace treaty with England, and the Constitution. And he helped invent America's unique style of homespun humor, democratic values, and philosophical pragmatism.But the most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself. America's first great publicist, he was, in his life and in his writings, consciously trying to create a new American archetype. In the process, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public, and polished it for posterity.Through it all, he trusted the hearts and minds of his fellow "leather-aprons" more than he did those of any inbred elite. He saw middle-class values as a source of social strength, not as something to be derided. His guiding principle was a "dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people." Few of his fellow founders felt this comfort with democracy so fully, and none so intuitively.In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin's amazing life, from his days as a runaway printer to his triumphs as a statesman, scientist, and Founding Father. He chronicles Franklin's tumultuous relationship with his illegitimate son and grandson, his practical marriage, and his flirtations with the ladies of Paris. He also shows how Franklin helped to create the American character and why he has a particular resonance in the twenty-first century.

Benjamin Franklin Details

TitleBenjamin Franklin
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseJun 1st, 2004
PublisherSimon & Schuster
ISBN-139780743258074
Rating
GenreBiography, History, Nonfiction, North American Hi..., American History, Biography Memoir

Benjamin Franklin Review

  • Dylan
    January 1, 1970
    If Alexander Hamilton is one of the most underappreciated of the Founders then Benjamin Franklin is one of the most misunderstood. Isaacson ends his book with a concluding chapter that details this misundestanding. Throughout history each generation has taken a new look at Benjamin Franklin. As the author points out, Thoreau mocked him, Carnegie adored him and D.H. Lawrence despised him. So who was right, and why? Isaacson, while pointing out his faults and follies, does not hide his own admirat If Alexander Hamilton is one of the most underappreciated of the Founders then Benjamin Franklin is one of the most misunderstood. Isaacson ends his book with a concluding chapter that details this misundestanding. Throughout history each generation has taken a new look at Benjamin Franklin. As the author points out, Thoreau mocked him, Carnegie adored him and D.H. Lawrence despised him. So who was right, and why? Isaacson, while pointing out his faults and follies, does not hide his own admiration for Franklin. An interesting historical test is to consider that Franklin's style and personal life often overshadow his professional accomplishments and civic contributions. Because he lived apart from his wife, flirted with women, wrote about the science of farts and beget an illigitimate child the general public has ignored his historical importance. Rather than donning the frills and wigs of Paris, a trap Jefferson quickly fell into, Franklin purposefully wore plain suits, no wig and often times his famous fur hat. A man who set trends without trying, one of Franklin's greatest gifts was the ability to accomplish great things without anyone else realizing it. His feigned naivite, strategic avoidance of conflict and simple appearance made him the perfect man to discover electricity and promote the lightning rod; propose a union of the colonies in 1759; negotiate for the repeal of the Stamp Act; carve out a treaty with and multiple loans from France; negotiate peace with Britain; champion the Connecticut compromise for a bi-cameral legislature, one with representation based on population, the other with equal representation frome each state; and propose the complete abolition of slavery.Isaacson makes clear, and he is quite convincing, that while Franklin had his faults, he was revered in his own time, accomplished as much or more than any other Founder, and deserves to be considerd as one of America's most historically important statesman. Franklin's personal creed was that doing good things for others was the ultimate form of religion. In life and in death (in his will he set up a trust fund for young tradesman in Philadelphia and Boston) he practiced his religion dutifully. A religion that we in America would do well to retrieve.
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  • Jason Koivu
    January 1, 1970
    An excellent start-to-finish biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life begins by touching on his childhood as best as it can considering the lack of material to work with. After that, Isaacson takes the reader through a more detailed account of Franklin's early entrepreneurial life, through his many inventions, and into his later statesmen days. I was struck by the author's well-balanced hand for both time, achievements, personal and professional details, and philosophical and political ide An excellent start-to-finish biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life begins by touching on his childhood as best as it can considering the lack of material to work with. After that, Isaacson takes the reader through a more detailed account of Franklin's early entrepreneurial life, through his many inventions, and into his later statesmen days. I was struck by the author's well-balanced hand for both time, achievements, personal and professional details, and philosophical and political ideology. The importance of his work as a diplomat, an enchanting and emotional time in Franklin's life well dramatized by Isaacson, finally struck home to me. Benjamin Franklin provides a nice, concise, well-rounded look at a well-rounded man.
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  • Chrissie
    January 1, 1970
    ETA: I decided to change this to four stars since I enjoyed the author's Einstein even more, and I gave that four.***********************Why do YOU want to pick up a book about Benjamin Franklin? If you want his biographical details you need not even read a book, just check out Wikipedia. I wanted more. I wanted to understand his soul. I wanted to get under his skin. I wanted all the historical details in Wikipedia and more. I got what I wanted. Benjamin was an amazing person; people have only a ETA: I decided to change this to four stars since I enjoyed the author's Einstein even more, and I gave that four.***********************Why do YOU want to pick up a book about Benjamin Franklin? If you want his biographical details you need not even read a book, just check out Wikipedia. I wanted more. I wanted to understand his soul. I wanted to get under his skin. I wanted all the historical details in Wikipedia and more. I got what I wanted. Benjamin was an amazing person; people have only a superficial idea of who he really was. He is the guy who invented the lighting pole, that jolly fat man with a twinkle in his eye. He is the only person to have signed (and extensively worked on) the Declaration of Independence, the Peace Accord with England and the Treaty with France following the Revolution and the American Constitution. So this is a man of politics, you surmise. Yes, he was, but he was so much more. It is the breadth of all that he did that is so amazing. This is a man who changed history in not one way or two ways or merely ten ways. The world would not be the same today without this man. He has shaped the American character, given us wide ranging inventions and, yes, signed all those documents.This is not a review of who Benjamin is, for that read this book. It is thorough. It is interesting. It is funny, and this is because Benjamin has made some outrageously amusing comments. He was a fantastic storyteller. We are not only told this but given numerous examples. The book follows a chronological path from birth to death and is concluded with a fantastic epilogue that synthesizes all the diverse threads. The book has everything you may want to know about this man, but not too much either! That is quite a feat.I have one complaint, but it does not warrant the removal of the fifth star. My gut feeling is that the book is amazing. The author clearly admires Benjamin, and yet he does clearly point out his weak characteristics and mistakes. I quite simply wish he had more emphatically underlined the fact that although Benjamin extolled virtue and the merit of helping others, he failed so miserably in how he treated those of his family. He had all these rules of good conduct and yet he failed to be a good father and husband. The author doesn't hide is failings, but I wanted a stronger statement that revealed the disparity between what he preached and what he did! There I have said it. Benjamin was in fact a very cruel person in relation to his family, and sometimes he was very selfish and ungenerous. Why did he abandon his family and remain in Europe for fifteen years? In my mind, it was only when he finally realized he would be given neither the Ohio land grant nor the coveted office in charge of the colonies, that he returned. His reasons for remaining in Europe had been very selfish. I wanted that to be said clearly.The narration of the audiobook by Nelson Runger was good but not excellent. He spoke clearly and slowly. I like slow narrations, but I was slightly irritated by his need to audibly swallow the saliva in his mouth. Neither do I think his female intonations were appealing. I am being very picky. These criticisms should not deter you from listening to the audiobook!An excellent book about Benjamin Franklin. You will be surprised at learning this is a man who has much more depth and importance than you ever imagined.**********************Through chapter fourHaving listened now through chapter four, I am beginning to see both Benjamin's good and bad personality traits. This only makes the book MORE accurate. Parts tend to be a bit preachy. Lists of the adages printed in his Poor Richard Almanacs drone on a bit too long. These almanacs were profitable, definitely a financial success. The moralizing about how to achieve virtue is a bit boring. Benjamin has even devised a "Moral Perfection Project"! He seems sometimes a bit inflated. OK, he also admits to his tendency of being too proud and adds the rule that one must try to remain humble. Anyhow, all this moralizing gets a bit hard to swallow. Enough! The author also makes it very clear that Benjamin employs humor to achieve his goals, but his humor can become quite nasty. He adds gossip columns to his paper. Sex tidbits and crime always attract readers, so they are added too. Somehow all the moralizing about proper behavior is explained away when profits are to be made. Yes, Benjamin is a pragmatist. He usually can find a convenient explanation for why what he does is acceptable. He states that gossip leads to virtue since it puts an end to improper behavior! He does admit though it must be used with discretion.... I am not looking for a fairy tale about Benjamin but the real truth, so I am not complaining.Only through chapter two:Finally a book that really draws my attention and makes me happy to be reading!! I am quite sure that this book will please. The information is clear and the author mentions details that are interesting. I am reading this book because I want to know who Benjamin Franklin was. By that I mean what kind of personality did he have, how would he instinctively react in a given situation and what are his weakness and charms. I want to know him as a blood and flesh friend; friend because I am already enchanted by his directness, dislike of elitism, humor, industriousness and ability to "bend rules". Books were important to Benjamin. He was a youth of the Enlightenment, which appeals to me too. He lived from 1706-1790. He enjoyed Daniel Defoe's writing and shared his principles. Here is an amusing detail: Defoe thought there should be established institutions for the mentally retarded. The amusing part is that he felt a tax should be levied on authors to pay for these residences. Why? Because clearly authors had been blessed with more brain matter than the retarded. They should thus care for those more poorly endowed!Benjamin was a vegetarian, at least for a while. He was not a vegetarian for moral reasons. By saving his money, eating less expensively, he could buy more books. Again, books are important! But then, on a boat trip, the cod sizzling on the grill smell "mmmm" so good! When filleting the fish, smaller fish had been found in the gut of the larger one, the one being cooked. He then conveniently reasoned: "If you eat one another, I don't see why we cannot eat you!" That ended his vegetarianism. Also he was on his way to a better paying job.Clearly it helps that I like Benjamin's ability to poke fun at both himself and what he saw around him. I enjoy his tendency to rationalize, albeit in a manner that is "convenient". He knew quite well he was simply finding a convincing reason for doing exactly what he wanted. I like this book because almost every paragraph throws in extraneous information that interests me. I didn't know that Puritanism was an effort to cleanse remnant Catholic practices from Protestantism. Puritans wanted to "purify" Protestantism. Reading this book, I am given much more than mere facts about Benjamin Franklin's life.I am listening to the audiobook narrated by Nelson Runger. He speaks clearly and very slowly. This allows one time to take small introspective excursions as you listen, and this I like to do. If you do not like glacial narrations, perhaps you should read the paper form of the book. Listening to a book often takes longer than reading the book.
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  • Luís C.
    January 1, 1970
    A so-called Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin is among the most influential figures of his time, whose scientific discoveries and philosophical and business ideas reverberate around the world. It is also a flesh and blood man who was instrumental in the development of what is now the most powerful nation in the world.Writer, scientist, inventor, diplomat and journalist.Isaacson shows how this incredible life beyond their own time, and how the collaboration of Franklin in d A so-called Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin is among the most influential figures of his time, whose scientific discoveries and philosophical and business ideas reverberate around the world. It is also a flesh and blood man who was instrumental in the development of what is now the most powerful nation in the world.Writer, scientist, inventor, diplomat and journalist.Isaacson shows how this incredible life beyond their own time, and how the collaboration of Franklin in documents such as the Declaration of American Independence helped shape the modern world.
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  • T-bone
    January 1, 1970
    The only time this book caught my attention was when I fell asleep reading it in bed and dropped it on my face. I stopped reading before I hurt myself further. This fascinating insight on page 82 was the last straw, "For the last 17 years of Deborah's life, Franklin would be away, including when she died. Nevertheless, their mutual affection, respect, and loyalty - and their sense of partnership - would endure."
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  • Lisa (Harmonybites)
    January 1, 1970
    This was a pleasure and just the kind of biography I find trustworthy. The kind that acknowledges other views and controversies and with extensive notes and sources in the back. More than that, it's the rare biography that can inspire smiles and even giggles--I'd mark this up to five stars if I could credit Isaacson for that--but the source of the humor is the frequent quotes from Benjamin Franklin himself. Isaacson said in his introduction that "Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who wink This was a pleasure and just the kind of biography I find trustworthy. The kind that acknowledges other views and controversies and with extensive notes and sources in the back. More than that, it's the rare biography that can inspire smiles and even giggles--I'd mark this up to five stars if I could credit Isaacson for that--but the source of the humor is the frequent quotes from Benjamin Franklin himself. Isaacson said in his introduction that "Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who winks at us" and that proved to be so--his pragmatism and humor is the keynote to his character. Before reading this, if someone asked me which Founding Father I'd chose to have dinner and conversation with I think I would have chosen Jefferson. After this it's hard not to name Franklin as a favorite and the one with the most winning personality--at least if you weren't married to him. Or one of his children.Franklin has his faults, goodness knows, and Isaacson doesn't gloss over them, but they just make him all the more poignantly human. I've heard it said that the Revolutionary War was really a civil war given how the lines between Patriots versus Loyalists cut through families. Of all the Founding Fathers, the cut was sharpest with Benjamin Franklin--his own son was the King's Governor of New Jersey and chose the opposing side. I did know that before reading this biography but there was plenty I didn't know--for instance that this man so identified with Philadelphia was born and grew up in Boston and spent so many years in England as well as Paris. Isaacson, who wrote biographies of Einstein and Steve Jobs, does justice to not just Franklin the statesman but the inventor and scientist as well. And throughout and especially in his epilogue gives us not just an assessment of the man but the biography of how he was received by others such as Sinclair Lewis, D.H. Lawrence and John Updike. An engaging and lively biography.
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  • Matt
    January 1, 1970
    Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. The book offers not only a great examination of the man, but also a wonderful set of vignettes related to all the activities Franklin undertook in his life. This most eclectic of men, the fifth generation of the youngest son of the youngest son, dazzled many he met and Isaacson's presentation surely will pull in many readers as well. In Isaac Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. The book offers not only a great examination of the man, but also a wonderful set of vignettes related to all the activities Franklin undertook in his life. This most eclectic of men, the fifth generation of the youngest son of the youngest son, dazzled many he met and Isaacson's presentation surely will pull in many readers as well. In Isaacson's examination, three themes emerge related to Franklin's persona: a common man, the inquisitive thinker, and the great Founding Father. Using these themes and Isaacson's strong narrative, the reader learns so much in this one tome, all of which helps better shape the view of this most varied of the early men who shaped America.At no point did Ben Franklin make himself out to be anything other than a common man. He lived a simple life and grew up surrounded by sixteen siblings in a household where frugality was itself considered posh. Becoming self-sufficient at a young age, Franklin sought to make a name for himself in the Philadelphia region becoming a printer at a young age and beginning a career that would make him a household name before any of his Founding roles. He sought to educate the masses with the written word, from tracts to pamphlets and even into satirical books, proving that the pen has its might and can sway as effectively as the sword. Isaacson offers a dose of humanness to Franklin by discussing his dalliances that brought about a bastard son, William, but balances the scales when showing that Franklin did not shirk from his responsibilities. Franklin did marry and have a legitimate family of his own, but they seemed to take a secondary place to his work and eventually to his curiosities, as mentioned below. Franklin remained well rooted throughout his life, even when politics came knocking, differentiating himself from the likes of the military Washington or highly political Jefferson. A common man to the last of his days, Franklin always sought the best for his fellow man without pretentiousness or a sense of entitlement. That Franklin was always thinking appears to be a recurring thread in Isaacson's narrative. Franklin never stopped wondering what was and what might be, given the chance. As early as when he began publishing, Franklin sought to better the lives of those around him by pushing the limits of the day and expressing a concrete desire to grow. Franklin printed his stories and ideas to force the common man to think about life and how he presents himself, hoping to open the mind up to new ideas or a better means of living the current one. Isaacson illustrates Franklin's ideas which included fire brigades, property insurance, and even public lending libraries. He saw an opening and a need and simply presented a plan in the microcosm of Philadelphia, which blossomed into something most people take for granted. Moving into the world of science, Franklin espoused a greater interest in opening new channels of thinking, but always practical ideas rather than esoteric or theoretical ones. Franklin began discoveries of electrical conversion and conservation by creating primitive batteries, curiosities around electric fencing, and paved the way for future theoretical scientists to formulate some of the ideas Franklin found while tinkering. Isaacson presents Franklin's ideas in such a way as to elevate his stature without leaving the reader to think he was better than anyone else, something biographers of Washington, Adams, and Jefferson fail to do in their respective tomes. Franklin did things for the curiosity of it and used that questioning spirit to help those around him. These ideas have, presently, become so ensconced in daily life that to learn of their inventor may leave the reader in awe.Franklin's concern for the common man and his innovative mind spawned a retired life where politics played a central role. Early in the tome, Isaacson mentions that Franklin was the only Founding Father who had a hand in all of the documents related to the eventual sovereignty of America. While he was strongly loyal to the British Crown, he did see some of the issues his fellow colonists felt, particularly in the realm of taxation and control of local affairs. Isaacson discusses Franklin's plan to create a form of legislative agreement that would allow regional and even colonial issues to be handled within the region, while working with the Crown and permitting a British overseer. This idea could have, Isaacson posits, curtailed the need for the Revolutionary War and likely allowed a more Canadian-based solution to the colonial quagmire (the latter part of this point is not Isaacson's but my political insight). It failed and Franklin stood firm with his colonial brothers in fighting for equality and representation. Franklin was elected to represent Pennsylvania at the bargaining table in London, but all his insight could not sway the likes of HRH George III, which precipitated the eventual War of Independence. With extensive sections of the tome dedicated to Franklin's various diplomatic positions, in both London and Paris, during those years ahead of the War and the period of peace negotiations. Franklin stopped at nothing to secure America's support from European allies and to temper the issues arising in the Mother Country. Isaacson does a masterful job at presenting this, as well as arguing that Franklin was likely the single man able to quell the size of the fight put up by the British during this colonial divorce proceedings. All this and the number of "who's who" historical figures that Franklin encountered and liaised with will surely astound the reader to no end. Isaacson does not shy away from examining Franklin's extensive work on constitutional documents, after Britain negotiated a settlement. While Franklin was elderly and not the greatest orator, his ideas were firmly rooted in democratic means, to benefit the people. Some ideas fell by the wayside when the consummate politicians scoffed at his empowering the common man, while others received strong consideration and eventually inclusion in the final constitutional documents. To call Franklin an important character in the political realm of America seems an understatement.While Franklin showed a varied and pleasantly passionate side, a quasi-fourth theme emerges throughout the tome; Franklin's complete abandonment of his family, particularly the women. Franklin galavanted throughout the colonies and into Europe with little regard for his wife, Deborah, penning letters to her on occasion and discussing how the woman whose home he shared while working in London had become so close to him. Franklin did not return when he discovered she'd had a stroke, nor did he rush back when she died. Franklin seemed to be divorced from his spousal responsibilities and did not give it a second thought. While he penned pleasant notes to his daughter and her husband, again, Franklin made little effort to attend her wedding or play any role in her life leading up to that point. Like the man always tinkering in the garage, Franklin had too much to do and too little time for those around him, unless they were as ensconced with his actions. Add to this, the aforementioned William, his bastard son, became a Royal Governor of New Jersey and thus put him opposite Franklin for much of the younger's adult life. It is interesting to note that Franklin had a wonderful relationship with his grandchildren, as Isaacson shows throughout, no matter how poorly he treated his own children. This is an interesting theme, familial abandonment, and one that I have not seen in any of the previous Founding Father biographies. Very poignant and it does balance well against all the good that Franklin did in his life.Isaacson's biographical sketch of Franklin is both thorough and entertaining, keeping the reader away from the quagmires of the mundane while not skimming over key aspects. Full of wonderful insights throughout, Isaacson shows the attention to detail and extensive research he undertook to weave this together. With strong themes and exceptionally off the wall observations (that Franklin's fathering of William led to two additional generations of bastard children begetting bastards) keep the reader pushing forward with interest and awe, rather than out of a sense of necessity. Like the previous figure Isaacson tackled that I have already read (Steve Jobs), the man appears to come alive through the author's wonderful prose.Kudos, Mr. Isaacson for your sensational biography. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into your other political juggernaut (Kissinger) or scientist (Einstein).Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at: http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/
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  • Laura
    January 1, 1970
    I loved this book. Isaacson did a fair and balanced job, describing the man without whitewashing over his flaws. By the end, I felt like Franklin was mine, like he somehow belonged to me. I knew he would be an interesting person, but I had no idea how much this man did with his life. Nor did I understand just how involved he was before there was any US at all. We could still be a British colony without him - or even a French one! Something else I never learned in school, France's involvement. Th I loved this book. Isaacson did a fair and balanced job, describing the man without whitewashing over his flaws. By the end, I felt like Franklin was mine, like he somehow belonged to me. I knew he would be an interesting person, but I had no idea how much this man did with his life. Nor did I understand just how involved he was before there was any US at all. We could still be a British colony without him - or even a French one! Something else I never learned in school, France's involvement. This is the opposite of a dry history book. This is real life, described in such a way that you feel like you were a part of it, and know all of the players. When Franklin left France for the last time, toward the end of his life, there were tears in my eyes. This from a confirmed history dummy who has never had an interest! Well, that's all changed now. Thank you, Mr. Isaacson, for making this old patriot leap off the pages, and for making me know and really care for him, and for history, for the first time in my life. You deserve a gold star for sure.
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  • Dan
    January 1, 1970
    An excellent biography of America's greatest statesman. As told in this litany by Isaacson, it was astonishing to learn that so many principles of our government and constitution are in whole or in part Franklin's ideas or were ideas that Franklin advocated for. I would say that the second half of this book, Franklin as the elder statesman, was as perfect a biography as I have read.
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  • Suzanne
    January 1, 1970
    This is a throroughly entertaining, well-researched, well-written biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson. It is lengthy (over 600 pages) and one feels obligated to read the footnotes because they further the work. The first third of the book moved quickly (childhood, moving to Philadelphia, beginning life as a printer, Poor Richard's Almanac). The middle third bogs down (life in England and France, the beginning of the Revolution) and the final third picks up (back in France, negotiat This is a throroughly entertaining, well-researched, well-written biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson. It is lengthy (over 600 pages) and one feels obligated to read the footnotes because they further the work. The first third of the book moved quickly (childhood, moving to Philadelphia, beginning life as a printer, Poor Richard's Almanac). The middle third bogs down (life in England and France, the beginning of the Revolution) and the final third picks up (back in France, negotiating the peace etc) I realized while reading this that I had many preconceptions based on rumor regarding Franklin. Yes he was flirt and loved women, but there was only one illegitimate child (not the rumored hundreds) and he (William Franklin) became the Governor of New Jersey. Franklin's wife Deborah (with whom he had 2 children, Sally and a son who died as a child) was "common-law" because she had been abandoned by her husband who disappeared to the Carribean. Divorce was illegal and without a death certificate, she could not remarry. It appears that he loved her but she would not travel with him and never left Philadelphia. So he went alone, and often stayed away for years. Sadly, despite her wish for him to return, he was in Europe for the last 15 years of her life. ???? Hard to fathom. On a political level much of what our country is can be attributed to Franklin's vision and support of a middle class. Jefferson, who founded the University of Virginia, believed that the role of education was to train the future leaders of the world by handpicking the best and brightest, and giving them the best education. Franklin totally disagreed believing that educational opportunities needed to be available to all, and based his founding of the University of Pennsylvania on those principles. Meritocracy, hard work, frugality...were beliefs he espoused throughout his life. Isaacson has a great writing style. He is less dry than David McCullough and Joseph Ellis, but not quite up to Doris Kearns Goodwin in flow. Not a quick read, but really enjoyable.
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  • Jimmy
    January 1, 1970
    An abridged audio tape. America was so lucky to have men like Benjamin Franklin to start us off. I read his Autobiography as a high school student, and it inspired me to be a better person. I may read it again now. When I look at today's "conservative" movement, I am ashamed of it. It is truly a disgrace to our country. They could do well to study the lives of men like Franklin who worked hard to better himself but also to help others. He believed in good governance, in helping the poor, and--Oh An abridged audio tape. America was so lucky to have men like Benjamin Franklin to start us off. I read his Autobiography as a high school student, and it inspired me to be a better person. I may read it again now. When I look at today's "conservative" movement, I am ashamed of it. It is truly a disgrace to our country. They could do well to study the lives of men like Franklin who worked hard to better himself but also to help others. He believed in good governance, in helping the poor, and--Oh the horror!--in science.
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  • Margaretann
    January 1, 1970
    Went to the King Tut exhibit in 2007 and was equally impressed by the Ben Franklin museum - where the exhibit was shown in PA. Loved this book; learned so much - maybe I'm a nerd but it was a page turner that I looked forward to each day!
  • Jerome
    January 1, 1970
    Biographies generally bore me, and this was no exception.So pedestrian, so conventional, so obviously a poor rehashing of much better Franklin biographies that preceded this one. One wonders why Isaacson even bothered to write the book. Money, perhaps? Whatever his motivation, the result is underwhelming.One of the difficulties with biography is that you already know most of the plot, and you probably know how it ends too. To create a sense of suspense and excitement, you need to need to do two Biographies generally bore me, and this was no exception.So pedestrian, so conventional, so obviously a poor rehashing of much better Franklin biographies that preceded this one. One wonders why Isaacson even bothered to write the book. Money, perhaps? Whatever his motivation, the result is underwhelming.One of the difficulties with biography is that you already know most of the plot, and you probably know how it ends too. To create a sense of suspense and excitement, you need to need to do two things. First, you need to construct a "plot" that is more than just a chain of events - you need to turn this life into some kind of story. Second, you need to add enough originality and insight to give the reader something they hadn't thought of before - a new twist on a familiar tale.Isaacson does neither. He follows Franklin from cradle to grave, covering his life with reasonable thoroughness, some attention to alternative sources and points of view, and with excellent command of English grammar and vocabulary. For this he is to be commended - his experience as a successful journalist shows. However, he has not managed to create anything that pulls the reader a long - neither the "what next" plot nor the "what will he tell me next" insights.The fault of the book, then, is its subject, but how Isaacson writes about him. Its chief fault is the lack of narrative flair: With the notable exception of the first and last chapters, we have a chronological account broken into small sections. Here's one particularly mundane succession: "Constitutional Ideas" (a mere 2 pages)," "Meeting Lord Howe Again (5 pages)," "To France, with Temple and Benny (4 pages)." A more satisfying approach would have traced Franklin's domestic political thought in one larger chapter, but this would violate Isaakson's chronological imperative. At times the book's equally weighted, well-ordered facts yield a pace that is both plodding and boring. The book is best when it manages to integrate larger themes with the strictly biographical details.
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  • Michael Finocchiaro
    January 1, 1970
    I swear I didn’t know he would be Job’s biographer when I purchased this book. I purchased it after reading the Einstein biography by Mr. Isaacson several months ago. This biography is on par with that one. Insightful and complete, we get an good appreciation for this mythical patriot of American values. Now, the one misgiving I have is that Mr. Isaacson preaches to these so-called American values on nearly every other paragraph. His point, of course, is that Ben Franklin was so instrumental in I swear I didn’t know he would be Job’s biographer when I purchased this book. I purchased it after reading the Einstein biography by Mr. Isaacson several months ago. This biography is on par with that one. Insightful and complete, we get an good appreciation for this mythical patriot of American values. Now, the one misgiving I have is that Mr. Isaacson preaches to these so-called American values on nearly every other paragraph. His point, of course, is that Ben Franklin was so instrumental in shaping the American destiny (the creator of the US Postal Service, the design of the dollar, the creation of the militia, the signature of the Declaration of Independence, Peace accords with England and France as well as the Constitution). However, I think that the point became a little overbearing after a while. America was created by 10s of thousands of patriots, no merely old Ben important as he was nonetheless.As for the subject, he was fascinating – I especially preferred his early years of scientific inquiry and base politics in Pennsylvania over the later diplomacy and somewhat idle living. Actually, the first 50 or so years of his life take up only the first 100 or so pages while the next 400 pages deal with the last 30 years. A bit disproportionate but given the importance of the American Revolution and all…still at times I felt it was not long enough when dealing with his science and philosophy and that it was too long when dealing with his many acquaintances and diplomatic contacts.As this is the first Ben Franklin biography I have read, I would be amiss to say that this one was the “best one”. In any case, it is entertaining and educational and a nice read. Will I be reading the bio of Kissinger by the same author? Not on your life. and Jobs? Well, maybe but my reading list is still a little backlogged so not in the next 6 months I am afraid. I’ll let the hype die down a bit first.
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  • Ahn Mur
    January 1, 1970
    This took a while. Not that the two have a whole lot in common, but the sheer size of it reminded me of War and Peace; it felt like it was too long until after I finished it, wherein I could appreciate that the length itself was a necessary medium for expressing the shocking length of Franklin's life. Though 85 is not altogether abnormally old, Franklin's life was subjectively twice that, full and productive as it was. The final chapter was especially important in conveying the overall takeaways This took a while. Not that the two have a whole lot in common, but the sheer size of it reminded me of War and Peace; it felt like it was too long until after I finished it, wherein I could appreciate that the length itself was a necessary medium for expressing the shocking length of Franklin's life. Though 85 is not altogether abnormally old, Franklin's life was subjectively twice that, full and productive as it was. The final chapter was especially important in conveying the overall takeaways of Franklin's life. I actually wish I'd read the last chapter first, then read the book, then read the last chapter again. In it, Isaacson presents a number of viewpoints on Franklin and the interpretation of his life, embedded in a commentary on Franklin's role in the history and identity of the US, something that I (as a Canadian) found incredible and fascinating. That being said, I still found much of this book to be quite dry. Isaacson dropped nuggets of amusement throughout (ex. the antics of Captain Luke Ryan, pillaging and apologizing and so on) which were charming and humanizing... But could've been woven into the narrative with more finesse. Isaacson also devoted much of the book to recounting--in great detail--Franklin's MANY flirt-tationships. I'm not sure if this was one of my favourite things about the book or one of the most frustrating things about the book. I wanted to know more about his scientific endeavours, and yet, I now know too much about how he played chess in the bathroom of Madame Brillon while she languished in the tub...
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  • Chantal
    January 1, 1970
    This book gave me a much broader perspective on Benjamin Franklin. I had read his autobiography in junior high and loved it. I determined that he was the genre of person I would have enjoyed as a friend. The man thinks like me in many respects. I adopted some of his ideas because they fit me. While I admired him, this book painted a more thorough picture of who he was, flaws and all. Now that I am an adult, it seemed appropriate to see the fuller picture of this character I thought so highly of. This book gave me a much broader perspective on Benjamin Franklin. I had read his autobiography in junior high and loved it. I determined that he was the genre of person I would have enjoyed as a friend. The man thinks like me in many respects. I adopted some of his ideas because they fit me. While I admired him, this book painted a more thorough picture of who he was, flaws and all. Now that I am an adult, it seemed appropriate to see the fuller picture of this character I thought so highly of. I discovered he was a words of affirmation guy. He loved a good practical joke. He was witty, but struggled with humility and often tried to feign humility. There are, I discovered, aspects of him that would drive me crazy, and even ones that I would never respect. The book also explained little connections to my New England roots that I enjoyed learning about. It inadvertently revealed how I am related to Benjamin, which was so exciting to me. My overall first take home point was: Benjamin Franklin was human, just like the rest of us. But secondly, it made me realize that it is often human nature to put on a pedestal people who do great things, but great things really are accomplished by human beings, flaws and all.
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  • Sean
    January 1, 1970
    Franklin was way ahead of his time both in thought and in action. From building a media conglomerate to retiring at 42 and becoming a scientist to seeing what the British did to the Irish and not wanting that same fate for America to traveling to France in his 70's with gout to convince France to fund the American Revolution to fighting against his own son in that war --- it was quite a life. Highlights:In a witty newspaper piece called “On Conversation,” which he wrote shortly after forming the Franklin was way ahead of his time both in thought and in action. From building a media conglomerate to retiring at 42 and becoming a scientist to seeing what the British did to the Irish and not wanting that same fate for America to traveling to France in his 70's with gout to convince France to fund the American Revolution to fighting against his own son in that war --- it was quite a life. Highlights:In a witty newspaper piece called “On Conversation,” which he wrote shortly after forming the Junto, Franklin stressed the importance of deferring, or at least giving the appearance of deferring, to others. Otherwise, even the smartest comments would “occasion envy and disgust.” His secret for how to win friends and influence people read like an early Dale Carnegie course: “Would you win the hearts of others, you must not seem to vie with them, but to admire them. Give them every opportunity of displaying their own qualifications, and when you have indulged their vanity, they will praise you in turn and prefer you above others…Such is the vanity of mankind that minding what others say is a much surer way of pleasing them than talking well ourselves.”Franklin went on to catalog the most common conversational sins “which cause dislike,” the greatest being “talking overmuch…which never fails to excite resentment.” The only thing amusing about such people, he joked, was watching two of them meet: “The vexation they both feel is visible in their looks and gestures; you shall see them gape and stare and interrupt one another at every turn, and watch with utmost impatience for a cough or pause, when they may crowd a word in edgeways.” The other sins on his list were, in order: seeming uninterested, speaking too much about your own life, prying for personal secrets (“an unpardonable rudeness”), telling long and pointless stories (“old folks are most subject to this error, which is one chief reason their company is so often shunned”), contradicting or disputing someone directly, ridiculing or railing against things except in small witty doses (“it’s like salt, a little of which in some cases gives relish, but if thrown on by handfuls spoils all”), and spreading scandal (though he would later write lighthearted defenses of gossip).“Printers are educated in the belief that when men differ in opinion, both sides ought equally to have the advantage of being heard by the public; and that when Truth and Error have fair play, the former is always an overmatch for the latter.”Franklin ended his “Apology for Printers” with a fable about a father and son traveling with a donkey. When the father rode and made his son walk, they were criticized by those they met; likewise, they were criticized when the son rode and made the father walk, or when they both rode the donkey, or when neither did. So finally, they decided to throw the donkey off a bridge. The moral, according to Franklin, was that it is foolish to try to avoid all criticism. Despite his “despair of pleasing everybody,” Franklin concluded, “I shall not burn my press or melt my letters.”“Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards.”Among his most noteworthy discoveries was that the big East Coast storms known as northeasters, whose winds come from the northeast, actually move in the opposite direction from their winds, traveling up the coast from the south. On the evening of October 21, 1743, Franklin looked forward to observing a lunar eclipse he knew was to occur at 8:30. A violent storm, however, hit Philadelphia and blackened the sky. Over the next few weeks, he read accounts of how the storm caused damage from Virginia to Boston. “But what surprised me,” he later told his friend Jared Eliot, “was to find in the Boston newspapers an account of the observation of that eclipse.” So Franklin wrote his brother in Boston, who confirmed that the storm did not hit until an hour after the eclipse was finished. Further inquiries into the timing of this and other storms up and down the coast led him to “the very singular opinion,” he told Eliot, “that, though the course of the wind is from the northeast to the southwest, yet the course of the storm is from the southwest to the northeast.” He further surmised, correctly, that rising air heated in the south created low-pressure systems that drew winds from the north. More than 150 years later, the great scholar William Morris Davis proclaimed, “With this began the science of weather prediction.”By coming up with what is now known as the matching grant, Franklin showed how government and private initiative could be woven together, which remains to this day a very American approach. He believed in volunteerism and limited government, but also that there was a legitimate role for government in fostering the common good. By working through public-private partnerships, he felt, governments could have the best impact while avoiding the imposition of too much authority from above. There were other streaks of conservatism, albeit what would now be labeled compassionate conservatism, in Franklin’s political style. He believed very much in order, and it would end up taking a lot to radicalize him into an American revolutionary.Britain had been expelling convicts to America, which it justified as a way to help the colonies grow. Writing as Americanus in the Gazette, Franklin sarcastically noted that “such a tender parental concern in our Mother Country for the welfare of her children calls aloud for the highest returns of gratitude.” So he proposed that America ship a boatload of rattlesnakes back to England. Perhaps the change of climate might tame them, which is what the British had claimed would happen to the convicts. Even if not, the British would get the better deal, “for the rattlesnake gives warning before he attempts his mischief, which the convict does not.”Modern election campaigns are often criticized for being negative, and today’s press is slammed for being scurrilous. But the most brutal of modern attack ads pale in comparison to the barrage of pamphlets in the 1764 Assembly election. Pennsylvania survived them, as did Franklin, and American democracy learned that it could thrive in an atmosphere of unrestrained, even intemperate, free expression. As the election of 1764 showed, American democracy was built on a foundation of unbridled free speech. In the centuries since then, the nations that have thrived have been those, like America, that are most comfortable with the cacophony, and even occasional messiness, that comes from robust discourse.“I fear the giving mankind a dependence on anything for support in age or sickness, besides industry and frugality during youth and health, tends to flatter our natural indolence, to encourage idleness and prodigality, and thereby to promote and increase poverty, the very evil it was intended to cure.” Not only did he warn against welfare dependency, but he offered his own version of the trickle-down theory of economics. The more money made by the rich and by all of society, the more money that would make its way down to the poor. “The rich do not work for one another…Everything that they or their families use and consume is the produce of the laboring poor.” The rich spend their money in ways that enrich the laboring poor: clothing and furniture and dwellings. “Our laboring poor receive annually the whole of the clear revenues of the nation.” He also debunked the idea of imposing a higher minimum wage: “A law might be made to raise their wages; but if our manufactures are too dear, they might not vend abroad.”After a midafternoon dinner hosted by Vergennes, Franklin had the honor, if not pleasure, of being allowed to stand next to the queen, the famously haughty Marie-Antoinette, as she played at the gambling tables. Alone among the throng at Versailles, she seemed to have little appreciation for the man who, she had been told, had once been “a printer’s foreman.” As she noted dismissively, a man of that background would never have been able to rise so high in Europe. Franklin would have proudly agreed.During one of Franklin’s late-night chess matches in Passy, a messenger arrived with an important set of dispatches from America. Franklin waved him off until the game was finished. Another time, he was playing with his equal, the Duchess of Bourbon, who made a move that inadvertently exposed her king. Ignoring the rules of the game, he promptly captured it. “Ah,” said the duchess, “we do not take Kings so.” Replied Franklin in a famous quip: “We do in America.”
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  • Sue
    January 1, 1970
    A few years ago, I had a chance to visit the Franklin museum in Philadelphia. I was stunned by the diversity of Franklin’s contributions to the new nation and to science. The all too popular image is of a bald man flying a kite under dangerous conditions, while spouting cheerful advice about thrifty and efficient living. I resolved then to learn a bit more. Besides, I am a sucker for historical biographies.The chapters on the early years felt plodding. Perhaps there is too little actually known A few years ago, I had a chance to visit the Franklin museum in Philadelphia. I was stunned by the diversity of Franklin’s contributions to the new nation and to science. The all too popular image is of a bald man flying a kite under dangerous conditions, while spouting cheerful advice about thrifty and efficient living. I resolved then to learn a bit more. Besides, I am a sucker for historical biographies.The chapters on the early years felt plodding. Perhaps there is too little actually known to flesh those chapters out to a lively narrative. The basic information is there – the spirited and opinionated printer and the probing scientific mind mark him as an extraordinary thinker. When he retired from his Philadelphia print shop as a prominent, and sometimes contentious, citizen, he moved to a bigger arena, finally becoming Postmaster General for the colonies. And along the way, he discovered some remarkable things about electricity.The book took off for me about a third of the way through, when we began to see Franklin at the center of ferment in the colonies.Franklin spent many years, on two occasions, in England as an agent for the Pennsylvania Assembly. The Assembly was particularly hampered by the fact that Pennsylvania was still a proprietary colony, in the hands of the Penn family. While the founder, William Penn, was regarded as admirable, his sons were more contrary, denying the Assembly the kinds of decision-making power that Franklin hoped for. He had begun moving even as a young man toward the notion that the colonists – British subjects – should have some kind of parliamentary power. He also was interested early on in a high level of cooperation among the separate colonies. As Postmaster General, he had come to appreciate the value of some amount of unity.But he was no separatist. He was loyal to the crown, hoping for Pennsylvania to receive a royal charter like those of other colonies. He hoped also for a personal grant of Ohio land. The crown (and Parliament) were deaf to those pleas. They were equally deaf to warnings that Britain’s stringent rules were leading to disaffected colonists. Although Franklin was instrumental in helping to repeal the Stamp Act, he failed in other areas. He particularly hoped for permission for colonists to manufacture goods; they were not allowed to weave their own cloth, for example. He was still in England when the infamous Tea Party occurred. Franklin was somewhat dismayed by this action, seen from the other side of the Atlantic. He may not have liked the elites, but he also had no liking for the rabble. While he became a political pariah in England, the renowned Mr. Franklin enjoyed the company of very influential thinkers and scientists, such as the philosopher David Hume and the scientist Joseph Priestley – a veritable who’s who of the 18th century.So there he was, loving his life in England, enjoying the company of great men and adoring women, not eager to return to Philadelphia, and hoping for Britain to recognize colonial rights. But his efforts to speak on behalf of the colonies made him less and less acceptable to critical members of the British government. The Continental Congress had formed. With great sadness, he boarded a ship for Philadelphia. It was fascinating to observe his turmoil, wanting more respect for the colonies, yet wanting to be part of the kingdom. His transformation from loyal subject to rebellious colonist must have been mirrored in many other people in those years.Probably I tuned in more vigorously for these events because they are so much a part of our national consciousness. Franklin’s stint in Paris was probably his greatest triumph. He was sent there to enlist French aid in the form of money as well as fighting forces. His success stamps him in history as one of America’s greatest diplomats. After he left Paris and returned to Philadelphia, he carried his skills at diplomacy and compromise into the Constitutional Convention. As an elder statesman, he brought gravitas to the proceedings and a willingness to compromise. While he was not a principle source of many ideas, his sage presence was critical to its conclusion.Franklin’s relationships with his family members are both mystifying and disheartening. His common-law wife, Deborah, never was willing to travel and would not leave Philadelphia to join him in England. When she had a stroke, followed by five years of poor health, Franklin did not return to Philadelphia, even when he was advised that she did not have long to live. His son William, who defied him by remaining a royalist and ultimately fleeing to London, sought a reconciliation after the conflict ended. Franklin was having none of it, and he managed to assure that William would be impoverished. He was warmer to his grandchildren, especially the rather feckless Temple Franklin, but he could be dismissive of their needs when he had other priorities. Those priorities sometimes included a retinue of devoted women, bright and attractive ones who could claim his attention if not his bed.I fear we have another extraordinary man with a tin ear for other people’s needs.The concluding chapter is the most interesting of the book. It was very satisfying to have the author’s thoughtful summing-up of Franklin’s reputation, which has waxed and waned in the years since he lived. He comes close to being a cipher for whatever age you happen to live in. He was the 18th-century embodiment of The Enlightenment in the New World, but as 19th-century thought evolved to a more romantic view of the world, he struck many as soulless. John Keats said he was not “a sublime man,” but was full of “mean and thrifty maxims.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said that Franklin’s man “is a frugal, inoffensive, thrifty citizen, but savors of nothing heroic.” All these dismissive comments seem to confuse Franklin with Poor Richard, the alter ego of the Almanac who was the source of Franklin’s homely wisdom. In a reversal of those negative 19th-century attitudes, all the modern self-help books seem to draw inspiration from Poor Richard and from Franklin’s Autobiography. It’s a dubious legacy.More importantly, Isaacson noted in a poetic summation… He devised legislatures and lightning rods, lotteries and lending libraries. He sought practical ways to make stoves less smoky and commonwealths less corrupt. He organized neighborhood constabularies and international alliances. He combined two types of lenses to create bifocals and two concepts of representation to foster the nation’s federal compromise.
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  • Dan
    January 1, 1970
    I enjoy providing background in my reviews of how I’ve acquired or read a book, because I believe it helps to paint a picture of my tastes, desires, and it might even give you more information about me. In other words, maybe the books I read act as my own autobiography. I bought this highly anticipated book only a short time after getting a new job as a store manager with FranklinCovey. Having made good friends with the store manager of the Waldenbooks store down the hall from my old store, I sp I enjoy providing background in my reviews of how I’ve acquired or read a book, because I believe it helps to paint a picture of my tastes, desires, and it might even give you more information about me. In other words, maybe the books I read act as my own autobiography. I bought this highly anticipated book only a short time after getting a new job as a store manager with FranklinCovey. Having made good friends with the store manager of the Waldenbooks store down the hall from my old store, I spent a fair amount of time in her store. I would learn about new and hot books, as well as best sellers as events unfolded. Four elements, therefore, led me to this book. FranklinCovey, at that time my new employer, was formed by Hyrum Smith and Stephen Covey. Both men have been leaders in business thought and self-improvement fields and both credit their philosophies, in large part, to the “Moral Improvement” project that Ben Franklin crafted to focus his own life. I was attracted to the book, first, because of my new company and their principles and philosophies.Second, I am a fan, if not a well read one, of American history. To me, the founding of our country is the ultimate action story. Winning our independence was so improbable and so hard fought, that it made for great theater and epic stories of adventure and heroism.Third, I try to read as much nonfiction as possible. The older I get, the more I come to understand that it’s a total imperative to learn about the world in which I live. I also see that there is more out there in this world that I don’t know, than the sum of what I do know.Lastly, spending time on my lunch breaks, browsing books down at Waldenbooks meant I saw books before most people could. When the first copies of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life arrived, I couldn’t resist the temptation to pick up a copy.Despite my intentions, though, it sat on my bookshelf, untouched for years. It’s an imposingly thick book and I could never seem to find the time. Flash forward three years and to a different FranklinCovey store; my staff was comprised of avid readers. In down times, they were commonly seen to pull out a book. Since they were diligent about hiding their books when a customer would walk in, there was no reason for me to deny them the freedom to read.It dawned on me that there were many books on my shelf, begging to be read. I always complained about a lack of free time to read; yet I usually had at least half an hour or more of free time every day. If my staff could pull out a book, why couldn’t I? With that in mind, I brought in the book I’d bought three years earlier.After having read and reviewed “Ernie Pyle’s War” last year and having reconsidered my earlier opinion, it occurred to me that reviewing a biography didn’t necessarily involve reviewing a human life. Instead, my reviews, I hope, are a reflection of how I’ve perceived how the book’s author has presented that human life. With that in mind, Walter Isaacson, former CEO of CNN, paints a loving and admiring, as well as a fair view of the life of a truly epic founding father.This book, by and large, is a chronological history of the life of a man who accomplished more than entire branches of many family’s trees. Mr. Isaacson crafts an unmistakably clear depiction of the growth and maturation, as well as the mental and emotion development of this founding father, showing how Ben Franklin’s experiences as a youth and young professional would affect his opinions and roles as a reluctant revolutionary.Ben was born almost three hundred years ago, as I write this, to a typically large family. Without writing a mini version of a great biography, along the way, we travel the world with Ben as he debates philosophy of the common man as a publisher, steals inspiration from future generations as an inventor and scientist, and ultimately acts as the greatest diplomat that America and maybe the world, has ever seen. That statement would be hard to classify as hyperbole.Ben’s story, as presented by Mr. Isaacson, is almost too fantastic and too seemingly superhuman to have happened, but the biography is supremely detailed and referenced up one side of the book’s 500+ page length, and down the other.The book, to be fair, is written on such a high reading level, that it wouldn’t be considered as a quick read by a person with less than an advanced postgraduate degree. Most readers of my reviews almost certainly know that I fall south of that mark, so this book took me much of a year to get through, after fits and starts of reading passages as time allowed. I should have known I was up against a seriously toned book when I learned that Supreme Court Justice Stevens was listening to this book as a book on audio. At least my reading list puts me in the highest company!Mr. Isaacson suggests that Benjamin Franklin’s philosophy matches him to no current major political ideology. Ben was way too complex of thought, but pure of philosophy than either of the two major political parties today would encourage. As a decided partisan myself, I find this a particularly refreshing discovery about the man who both invented bifocal glasses and mediated the constitutional congress of 1787 (and so much more, to be fair). This biography also frames Benjamin Franklin as a very, very likeable, but not perfect man. Mr. Isaacson resorts to none of the fan-boy tactics that many biographers might be inclined to use. He displays Ben’s greatness as well as his foibles and warts, so that the reader is free to bring their own judgments to the events of Franklin’s life.This book is a solid, enjoyable overview of a man who can be described as one of the first truly great Americans. If the style and presentation of this tome had been directed towards a lesser figure, it might have been an even more difficult read, but no fair, complete, and accurate telling of the life of Benjamin Franklin would allow for any such boredom or indifference. The greatness of the book’s subject raises my grade of this book by a single star.
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  • David Highton
    January 1, 1970
    A totally comprehensive biography of Franklin, the eldest of the Founding Fathers, and how he pulled himself up from being a printer's apprentice to a merchant, diplomat, politician and scientist. Isaacson presents a very rounded portrayal of his character in this impressive work. A man who liked family and friends around him, yet was in England for 15 of the last 17 years of his marriage while his wife remained and died in Philadelphia. I had not realised the extent of his fame in the latter pa A totally comprehensive biography of Franklin, the eldest of the Founding Fathers, and how he pulled himself up from being a printer's apprentice to a merchant, diplomat, politician and scientist. Isaacson presents a very rounded portrayal of his character in this impressive work. A man who liked family and friends around him, yet was in England for 15 of the last 17 years of his marriage while his wife remained and died in Philadelphia. I had not realised the extent of his fame in the latter part of his life, nor the key roles he played in the birth of the United States. Very long book but well worth reading.
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  • Brad Feld
    January 1, 1970
    Ben Franklin is one of my heroes, along with Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and a few others. As I start my march through reading books about American presidents, I figured I’d start with a famous American who was never a president but was deeply involved in creating the situation where there could be American presidents.I’m a big fan of Walter Isaacson and his biographies (I’ve read many of them.) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life didn’t disappoint. Isaacson is great at making a biography Ben Franklin is one of my heroes, along with Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and a few others. As I start my march through reading books about American presidents, I figured I’d start with a famous American who was never a president but was deeply involved in creating the situation where there could be American presidents.I’m a big fan of Walter Isaacson and his biographies (I’ve read many of them.) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life didn’t disappoint. Isaacson is great at making a biography flow easily so it reads like a cross between a novel and a non-fiction book. The stories aren’t embellished, but they are well written, generally efficient, and extensive. If you are worried about biography as “facts and figures over time”, that’s not the mark of a good biography and definitely not Isaacson’s approach.Being a fan of Ben Franklin, I’ve read plenty, especially as a teenager, about him. I had a healthy list of “Ben Franklin firsts” and things that Franklin was involved in. But as Amy and I watched the HBO Series John Adams recently, I became curious about how much, or how little, about Ben Franklin I really knew.It turned out to be “how little”, not because I didn’t know much, but because the list of things Ben Franklin created, did first as a human, or enabled in America, is just remarkable. While everyone knows about his role in the American Revolution, American postmaster, printer, experiments with lightening, and invention of bifocals and the Franklin stove, here are a few that are not commonly known.Ben Franklin:was an amazing swimmer and created swimming fins (well – wooden ones)created the first volunteer fire departmentcreated the odometercreated the urinary catheterloved to travel and was extremely nomadic between America, France, and Englandcreated the first American musical instrument (the glass armonica)created all the electric terminology, such as battery, charged, condense, conductor, plus / minus, positively / negatively, to go along with his experimentshelped create the first American hospitaland the list goes on and on and on.The early Franklin was well-known for the virtues he stated and then worked on personally, not all at once, but systematically over time. When I reflect on them, I find them remarkably contemporary.“Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”“Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”“Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”“Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”“Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”“Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”“Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”“Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”“Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”“Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”“Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”“Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”“Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.His personal life was fascinating, complex, and non-traditional. It evolved over his life time and while it doesn’t parallel mine in any way, Isaacson’s portrayal of it is robust, although there are points in time in the book where I felt Isaacson let Franklin off the hook for things that weren’t “awesome” and could have been dug into further. But, after all, we are all bags of chemicals and have lots of flaws.His skills as a politician and negotiator were just awesome. His ability to stay calm in intense situations was awe inspiring. I knew plenty of the specific situations, but seeing Franklin’s role in them from the perspective of a biographer of Franklin was mindblowingly interesting and educational.I’ll leave you with a few famous Franklin quotes that we repeat or hear regularly.In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.Be slow in choosing a friend, slower in changing.Content makes poor men rich; discontentment makes rich men poor.Wine is constant proof that God loves us and loves to see us happy.They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
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  • Joe
    January 1, 1970
    Isaacson is getting a lot of attention and reading right now for his Steve Jobs biography and there is some symmetry in his biography of Franklin, surely the Steve Jobs of his day, (a comparison favorable to Jobs, for sure.)Isaacson does a great job in placing Franklin in his startling historical context. Ben Franklin is old! He is so old when he was born we even reckoned time by a different calendar - the Julian instead of the Gregorian. He was a contemporary of such old-timey Puritan giants as Isaacson is getting a lot of attention and reading right now for his Steve Jobs biography and there is some symmetry in his biography of Franklin, surely the Steve Jobs of his day, (a comparison favorable to Jobs, for sure.)Isaacson does a great job in placing Franklin in his startling historical context. Ben Franklin is old! He is so old when he was born we even reckoned time by a different calendar - the Julian instead of the Gregorian. He was a contemporary of such old-timey Puritan giants as Cotton and Increase Mather! The Salem Witch Trials had occurred a mere 14 years before his birth. (Witchburning as as recent past for him almost what Beatlemania was for me...) The America in which he came of age was a truly different place than what it was for men like Washington and Adams. Thomas Jefferson was young enough to have been his grandson!Isaacson does a great job in bringing this almost exotic American to life and enumerates his many unique accomplishments and contributions to American and world culture. I cannot do justice to it here, but Isaacson explains how many of Franklin's scientific accomplishments (he coined the term "battery" for electrical storage and also came up with "positive" and "negative" charges as concepts) remain impressive and even crucial to today's scientific understandings. Isaacson also demystifies much of the lore of Ben Franklin's sexual reputations: he was no saint, but nowhere near the libertine his enemies made him out to be. His advance age and serious gout would have kept him from the kind of shenanigans he is famous for in France.Isaacson also give space to Franklin's constantly evolving spiritual understanding. He was certainly no orthodox Christian by any understanding, but neither did he die as the Deist he was famous for being in his younger days.Isaacson concludes with a gripping essay on Franklin's importance to American and even world history. There are perhaps none as versatile and as wide accomplished as Franklin in the annals of any nation.
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  • Nate Cooley
    January 1, 1970
    Probably the best biographical source on Benjamin Franklin is straight fron the horses mouth . . . his Autobiography. However, Isaacson's book is definitely an engaging read and fairly exhaustive. My initial impression is that the author is careful in not falling into the a trap that so many biographers often do, in that they deify their protagonist. Isaacson takes an objective approach to Franklin and enumerates his many flaws (or at least what most would perceive as flaws when attributed to on Probably the best biographical source on Benjamin Franklin is straight fron the horses mouth . . . his Autobiography. However, Isaacson's book is definitely an engaging read and fairly exhaustive. My initial impression is that the author is careful in not falling into the a trap that so many biographers often do, in that they deify their protagonist. Isaacson takes an objective approach to Franklin and enumerates his many flaws (or at least what most would perceive as flaws when attributed to one of the American founders). More specifically, Franklin is repeatedly, and appropriately, described as less than a perfect father or husband. Furthermore, he is also appropriately described as having a substantial veneration for France, which in today's plotical climate is not an attribute most Americans would want to attribute to one of the leading founders. Summarily, Isaacson's book is an excellent narrative of Franklin's life from beginning to end. It is a great starting point for any study of Franklin. It is a bare bones assessment of the man who was determined to be one of the "Greatest Americans" of all time, though he himself was unsure of his identity until later on in life.
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  • Pete daPixie
    January 1, 1970
    Comprehensively researched and well balanced biography, in very similar territory as McCullough's highly recommended treatise on John Adams. Isaacson's 'Benjamin Franklin-An American Life', published 2003, captures the extraordinary and many faceted eighty four year life of this founding father. A caricature that would be instantly recognisable in The Simpsons, this biography paints a vivid portrait of the man, his times, family, morals, scientific enquiry and political journey.I have long wishe Comprehensively researched and well balanced biography, in very similar territory as McCullough's highly recommended treatise on John Adams. Isaacson's 'Benjamin Franklin-An American Life', published 2003, captures the extraordinary and many faceted eighty four year life of this founding father. A caricature that would be instantly recognisable in The Simpsons, this biography paints a vivid portrait of the man, his times, family, morals, scientific enquiry and political journey.I have long wished to read Franklin's 'Autobiography', which doesn't seem to reside in my local library, so I picked this New York Times Bestseller. Approaching five hundred pages, it comes with almost fifty pages of detailed Notes, a very handy alphabetic cast of characters list and a chronology from 1706 to 1790.A chess playing propagandist, whose moves snatched a king off the board and gave Lord North a rook and two pawns for change.
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  • Sara
    January 1, 1970
    I absolutely loved this book. I picked this book up in an antique store in Virginia, of all places, and it sat on my shelf for a year and a half before I got around to reading it. But once I opened it I couldn't get enough of Dr. Franklin.Benjamin Franklin is the MAN. I was continually amazed to learn about his life and accomplishments. Did you know that Ben Franklin invented the lightening rod, bifocals, and catheters? That he discovered the Gulf Stream? That he was America's first postmaster, I absolutely loved this book. I picked this book up in an antique store in Virginia, of all places, and it sat on my shelf for a year and a half before I got around to reading it. But once I opened it I couldn't get enough of Dr. Franklin.Benjamin Franklin is the MAN. I was continually amazed to learn about his life and accomplishments. Did you know that Ben Franklin invented the lightening rod, bifocals, and catheters? That he discovered the Gulf Stream? That he was America's first postmaster, our first ambassador to France, and the most famous American in the world for much of his life? How about that he was the only person to sign all four of these: The Declaration of Independence, the American treaty with France and our peace accord with Britain, and the Constitution? It's crazy and sad that such a brilliant and influential historical figure is reduced in popular memory to a randy old kook flying a kite in the rain. Although he was that, too.
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  • Brian Willis
    January 1, 1970
    Readers searching for a readable, engaging, and page turning account of the least patrician of the Founding Fathers can search here for a very fun read through the life of Franklin. Filled with his aphorisms and wisdom, but never glossing past his failings (his family life was very complicated to say the least), this book covers all of the great accomplishments: his publications, his entrepreneurship, his innovations, his diplomacy, his statesmanship, and finally his hidden hand behind many of t Readers searching for a readable, engaging, and page turning account of the least patrician of the Founding Fathers can search here for a very fun read through the life of Franklin. Filled with his aphorisms and wisdom, but never glossing past his failings (his family life was very complicated to say the least), this book covers all of the great accomplishments: his publications, his entrepreneurship, his innovations, his diplomacy, his statesmanship, and finally his hidden hand behind many of the important phrases and structures in American government. Detailed without being exhausting, I would recommend this book highly to readers of early American history and Franklin in particular.
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  • Kate Carlisle
    January 1, 1970
    I learned so many interesting things about Franklin from reading this book, and about the early days of our country. For example, for a long time, Franklin didn't want America to declare independence. He tried very diligently to get England to change its behavior toward the colonies, and only when all those efforts failed did he become a revolutionary. What an incredible thing, to declare independence and create a country from scratch! Really enjoyed the book and the insights.
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  • Carl R.
    January 1, 1970
    Walter Isaacson’s 2003 Ben Franklin An American Life makes a wonderful complement to the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning Benjamin Franklin by Carl Van Doren. Van Doren’s book is dense and exhaustive and admiring of both the man and his work. Isaacson is thorough as well, but more readable, and more critical, especially of Franklin’s personal life. It’s been several years since I read the Van Doren book, and I don’t plan to go back for a point-by-point analysis, but if you want to read just one, I’d Walter Isaacson’s 2003 Ben Franklin An American Life makes a wonderful complement to the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning Benjamin Franklin by Carl Van Doren. Van Doren’s book is dense and exhaustive and admiring of both the man and his work. Isaacson is thorough as well, but more readable, and more critical, especially of Franklin’s personal life. It’s been several years since I read the Van Doren book, and I don’t plan to go back for a point-by-point analysis, but if you want to read just one, I’d say go for Walter. Pretty much everyone knows something about Franklin’s Horatio Alger beginnings and about his role as a signer of the Declaration of Independence and framer of the Constitution. Folks connect his name with Poor Richard and the Almanac, the Franklin Stove, the lightning rod, and bifocals. Many fewer, probably, know of his business acumen, how he turned one small Philadelphia print shop into a multi-colonial string of franchises that enabled him to retire at age forty-two (1747) to pursue projects of scientific and community betterment. He used his “leisure” time to lead the world in the discovery and use of electricity, invent a musical instrument (the Armonica) which became enough of an orchestral standby to warrant compositions by Beethoven and Mozart, correspond with scientists and philosophers worldwide on a huge range of subjects, write the constitution of Pennsylvania, organize fire departments, raise and lead a militia, and organize a postal service that achieved a twenty-four hour turnaround on letters between New York and Philadelphia. All this before the revolution was even a glimmer in Samuel Adams’ eye. So, why would a man of so many talents and obviously superior intellect be labeled “bourgeois”? Because he was the quintessential Rotarian. He never worked alone. Practically everything he did involved an organization of some sort, usually an organization he founded. Isaacson focuses on Franklin as the community do-gooder. He was neither a Newton nor a Voltaire, would never have invented Calculus or delved deeply into the nature of God. Instead, he loved to gather data and put it to use; and religion was fine as long as it was used to make for better lives and helped people to be kind to one another. You can find his calculations of the speed and patterns of the Gulf Stream Currents on the NASA website. He called his collection of Leyden jars to store electricity a “battery”, and we still use the word. The terms “positive” and “negative” for electrical poles are his invention. All very interesting knowledge and theory, he would say, now let’s put it to use. Let’s cook a turkey (he did) with electrical current, or fashion a pointed metal rod to keep lightning from destroying your house. He never patented anything, preferring to make his inventions available to the widest possible array of the population. This isn’t even a smidgen of the whole picture. If you wanted to think about it or philosophize about it, talk to someone else. If you want to use it to improve your life, talk to Franklin. The same went for his advice as for his inventions. Nearly all Poor Richard’s aphorisms (many of them reworked from other sources) are pragmatic hints for getting along in the here and now--”He’s a fool that makes his doctor his heir;” “necessity never mad a good bargain;” “diligence is the mother of good luck;” “no gains without pains;” “there’s a time to wink as well as to see.” There’s little of the spiritual or abstract. This is the part of Franklin the world knows best and that draws the fire of romantics and theorists who want grand ideas and passions from him instead of the concrete stuff of the daily grind. And in many ways, Franklin was indeed short on grand and intimate passion and guilty of neglecting familial ties. He acknowledged and cared for his illegitimate son, but was never close to him. In fact, rejected William savagely when he refused to join the revolution. He had an affectionate forty-nine-year marriage (common law because there was no concrete evidence of the death of Deborah’s disappeared husband). But he spent fifteen of the last seventeen years of that marriage abroad and made no effort to get home after she had a stroke and took nearly a year to die. He was more affectionate to some members of the surrogate family he gathered around him in England than to his flesh-and-blood American relatives. He attended the wedding of neither his natural son nor daughter, but made great pains to attend the wedding of his English landlady’s daughter. He engaged in numerous flirtations that seemed never to be consummated, always conducting them with a humorous irony that avoided closing that last intimate gap. He was a rationalist who never opened his heart all the way. In addition, he never till the end of his life came to terms with slavery. He owned slaves most of his adult life even though he was friends with abolitionists. By the time he became committed to abolition, he was too old to employ any of his acumen to doing anything about it. It seemed that, like his family, it was an issue that he wanted to keep at arm’s length because it stirred emotions that were too intense or unresolveable. Thus, his family never got out of this giant of the age of reason the closeness or affection they wanted. Two possible exceptions: First--Grandson Temple, the illegitimate son of his own illegitimate son, William, the one from whom he became so bitterly estranged. But you could argue that BF indulged Temple to the extent that he spoiled the boy, and he never made good use of his grandfather’s largesse. Second exception--Great-grandson Benjy, Temple’s illegitimate son, whom Franklin set up in the printing business and who made a good name for himself at his great-grandfather’s trade. Outside the family, however, Franklin was a great master at bettering lives and societies wherever he went, and not just with his clever inventions. Not many of us know in any detail his feats as a statesman. His years in Paris are legendary for how he took society by storm. Less known is the decade he spent in London trying hard via America’s English sympathizers to keep the bridges between America and England from burning. He was one of the last to sign on for the revolution, up to and beyond the last minute hoping and working for ways to keep the colonies in the Empire. He endured a terrible drubbing in House of Commons in 1775 over the proper relationship of colonies to masters. Once the war began, however, there was no greater zealot. He became Congress’ first ambassador to France at age seventy. As celebrated and accomplished as his life had been to that point, his most monumental achievements occurred when he was an old man. His work in France was far more than social, though it probably couldn’t have been accomplished without the celebrity he cultivated. The 1778 treaties of alliance and commerce were masterpieces of diplomacy and saved America’s bacon without a doubt. After Yorktown, the final peace treaties could not have been completed without his ameliorating influence over the bellicose tantrums of John Adams and the hard-as-nails obdurance of John Jay. And finally, at the age of eighty-three, fully twice the median age of the other members of the Constitutional Convention, he more than any other individual, made possible the compromises that resulted in our governing document. By changing his own positions to help resolve several conflicts (He fought hard for a unicameral legislature, for example) and by persuading others that rigidity was the enemy of a working republic, he became the model for the document the convention eventually shaped. In the concluding address of the final session, he said, “I consent. . . to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best.“ Not a ringing sales endorsement, but emblematic of the attitude many of us in this strident, opinionated age would do well to copy. We humans can never be as certain as we’d like to be that we’re right. All of this history Isaacson relates in a lively prose that keeps one’s nose between the pages long after curfew. Clever phrasing such as “the back-channel fandango” (describing some of the maneuvering going on during the negotiations at the end of the War) keep the drama moving without trivializing the gravity of the events. His descriptions of Franklin as the original image-maker and spinmeister are as entertaining as BF himself must have been. They make you want to sit in one of those London or Philadelphia coffee houses, warmed by a Franklin Stove, sipping Madeira, watching the old man read a treatise or article through his bifocals and commenting with one of his parables. It’s a delicious read that makes a legendary figure as down-home and familiar as any neighborhood storyteller.
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  • Esmerelda Weatherwax
    January 1, 1970
    I had a problem paying attention to history in high school, and even in college. I did passably well and forgot 90% of what I learned. I was way more focused on biology and astronomy and thought history was boring. As a result, whenever history comes up in conversation I feel way out of the loop and it's a tad embarrassing. I've been trying to rectify this by reading biographies and I thought it would be like pulling teeth, but it's been delightfully entertaining - I was not expecting that. This I had a problem paying attention to history in high school, and even in college. I did passably well and forgot 90% of what I learned. I was way more focused on biology and astronomy and thought history was boring. As a result, whenever history comes up in conversation I feel way out of the loop and it's a tad embarrassing. I've been trying to rectify this by reading biographies and I thought it would be like pulling teeth, but it's been delightfully entertaining - I was not expecting that. This book was written as though the author actually knew Ben Franklin, there's a bibliography in the back of the book that's around 60 pages long, it's extraordinarily well researched! It was written in a tone like he was Franklins best friend, and is telling us stories and tidbits from his life not just a list of accomplishments and dates. It actually sounded *almost* like a narrative. I loved this part of it, it actually made a biography hard to put down, which I didn't know was a thing. I learned stuff right off the bat from the first page, and this guy lead one of the most interesting lives I've ever heard of. If he were a fictional character people would say he was written over the top and not believable. What I remembered from him in high school was he was an eccentric inventor who was also a politician, I didn't realize how he almost single handedly developed the city of Philadelphia. He arrived there when the city had ~2,000 people living in it, without paved roads. He developed the school system and the tax system to pay for it - as well as helped out with the first school for black children. He practically invented the police department, taking it from a gang of paid thugs to a tax paid civil service - he did the thing for the fire dept, postal service, and militia. He went from being a Loyalist to King George to an outspoken Rebel who helped develop the Declaration of independence. I mean, there's about 10001 things I'm leaving off this list too, he dabbled with electricity and developed the lightning rod (which was a big deal back then), and helped develop paper currency. What I really loved about the author, though, is that he didn't glance over the negative aspects of Franklin. He had a very hard time maintaining personal and intimate relationships even with his own family. He really did not treat his brother, John, all that well, nor his son William - and his wife died alone. He did own slaves to begin with, and argued that America should be more white. However, later on in life after working with the school for black children he had a change of heart and became an outspoken abolitionist ~100 years before they would be set free. Holy wow, this guys life was something else.
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  • Jeremy Perron
    January 1, 1970
    To say that Benjamin Franklin led an interesting life would be the understatement of the century. Dr. Franklin was the first American to be world famous. He was an American Revolutionary, a theorist on government, a scientist in nearly all fields, and a printer being his first profession. In the end, one can say that there is nothing that the man did not do in his lifetime. Walter Isaacson brings this extraordinary American to life, allowing the reader to explore the world that was with this inc To say that Benjamin Franklin led an interesting life would be the understatement of the century. Dr. Franklin was the first American to be world famous. He was an American Revolutionary, a theorist on government, a scientist in nearly all fields, and a printer being his first profession. In the end, one can say that there is nothing that the man did not do in his lifetime. Walter Isaacson brings this extraordinary American to life, allowing the reader to explore the world that was with this incredible human being. The thirteenth of sixteen children, and a youngest son of a youngest son for five generations, Ben Franklin learned early on that if he wanted to be noticed he would have to work hard. Franklin went to work at an early age as an indentured servant for his brother James's print shop in Boston. He even get his first by-line, after getting in trouble with the state legislature and order to print no more work under his own name, James Franklin decides to publish everything under his brother's. However, life as an indentured servant is no fun even when your master is your own older brother. Ben Franklin decides to escape to Philadelphia, where he opens his own print shop. As a printer, Franklin has tremendous success, his paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, was popular. He would also publish the famous Poor Richard's Almanac. Franklin, however, does some things okay for his time, but now we would frown upon. For example he, from time to time, makes up stories or writes letters to the editor under pseudonym often to express a political point or to tell a funny tale. "Like most other newspapers of the time, Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette was filled not only with short news items and reports on public events, but also amusing essays and letters from readers. What made his paper a delight was its wealth of this type of correspondence, much of it written under pseudonyms by Franklin himself. This gimmick of writing as if from a reader gave Franklin more leeway to poke fun at his rivals, revel in gossip, circumvent his personnel pledge to speak ill of no one, and test-drive his evolving philosophies." p.65 Ben Franklin was also an accomplished scientist, even though he was not formally trained. His work in electricity would be revolutionary as his later political ideas. Franklin's most famous invention outside his silly stove was the Lighting Rod. He would also map the Gulf Stream, and would always be fascinated by oil's effect on water.* "In fact, these terms devised by Franklin are the ones we still use today, along with other neologisms that he coined to describe his findings: battery, charged, neutral, condense, and conductor. Part of Franklin's importance as a scientist was the clear writing that he employed. `He has written equally for the uninitiated as well as the philosopher,' the early nineteenth-century English chemist Sir Humphry Davy noted, `and has rendered his details as amusing as well as perspicuous.'" p.135 Ever a political and social creature he was member of local clubs and debating societies. He would marry Deborah Franklin after her first husband abandoned her. He would have also father an illegitimate son who he would personally raise**. As the colonial postmaster general, he would found the origins of what would become the post office. Benjamin Franklin would spend almost an entire decade in Britain trying to be an advocate to the people of Pennsylvania on a variety of issues. He was an opponent of most the tax laws that Britain made during this time. When letters from the colonial Governor Thomas Hutchinson came to Franklin's attention, he leaked them so that the Americans would see that the threat to their liberties was coming from home rather than the mother country. The Privy Council of George III however saw that event differently, and he was brought before them and ridiculed. After this misadventure, he went home and joined the Revolution. Joining the rebels would cause a permanent break with his son William that was never healed. As a member of the Second Continental Congress, he was a strong advocate for Independence for America. He was part of the famous Committee of Five with future presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. There he aided in drafting what would become the Declaration of Independence. Franklin was dispatched by the Congress to try to form an alliance with King Louis XVI of France. There after the Battle of Saratoga, Franklin negotiated the most important military alliance in the young history of the Republic. He would later take part in the signing of the Treaty of Paris the ended the American Revolutionary War. "As he would prove in France, Franklin not only knew how to play a calculated balance-of-power game like the best practitioner of real-politik, but he also knew how to play with his other hand the rousing chords of American exceptionalism, the sense that America stood apart from the rest of the world because of its virtuous nature. Both the hard power that came from its strategic might and the soft power that flowed from the appeal of its ideals and culture would, he realized, be equally important in assuring its influence." p.338 At the end of his life, Franklin would do two more things that are incredible. In 1787, he would take part in the writing of the Constitution of the United States; his plea for unity became a part of his legend. Two years later, as his life was about to end, he became the president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and wrote letters to the First Congress urging an end to slavery. Ben Franklin's incredible life ended on April 17, 1790, he was the man who did it all. Everything written in this review and more is covered in Mr. Isaacson's work, and I highly recommend this book to anyone. *Which means Franklin would have quite a bit to say about this latest crisis in the Gulf of Mexico. **William Franklin's mother was most likely a prostitute.
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