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Benjamin Franklin: An American Lifeby Walter Isaacson
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"[A]n admirable work that takes its place among recently acclaimed biographies by H.W. Brands and Edmund Morgan as one with special appeal to a general audience." Library Journal
"[Franklin] remains an ideal American type — and one well served by this sympathetic and admiring study....a solid contribution to Frankliniana." Kirkus Reviews
"Isaacson...has a keen eye for the genius of a man whose fingerprints lie everywhere in our history. The oldest, most distinctive and multifaceted of the founders, Franklin remains as mysterious as Jefferson." Publishers Weekly
"Isaacson has crafted a wonderfully written biography, and his treatment of Franklin's youth and rise to prominence is insightful and imaginative." John Ferling, The Washington Post
"It is a thoroughly researched, crisply written, convincingly argued chronicle that is also studded with little nuggets of fresh information." Joseph J. Ellis, The New York Times
This portrait of Benjamin Frankin's public and private life also examines American and European political history of the time. The author examines the run up to the Revolutionary War, the relations between Britain, France and the colonies and the events that led to America's independence.
Rescuing Benjamin Franklin from the clich of genial codger, this book celebrates the most interesting, advanced, and earthy of the founding fathers. 16-page four-color insert.
About the Author
Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life and Kissinger: A Biography. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife and daughter.
Table of Contents
Benjamin Franklin and the Invention of America
Pilgrim's Progress: Boston, 1706-1723
Journeyman: Philadelphia and London, 1723-1726
Printer: Philadelphia, 1726-1732
Public Citizen: Philadelphia, 1731-1748
Scientist and Inventor: Philadelphia, 1744-1751
Politician: Philadelphia, 1749-1756
Troubled Waters: London, 1757-1762
Home Leave: Philadelphia, 1763-1764
Agent Provocateur: London, 1765-1770
Rebel: London, 1771-1775
Independence: Philadelphia, 1775-1776
Courtier: Paris, 1776-1778
Bon Vivant: Paris, 1778-1785
Peacemaker: Paris, 1778-1785
Sage: Philadelphia, 1785-1790
Cast of Characters
Sources and Abbreviations
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History and Social Science » US History » 18th Century
History and Social Science » US History » Franklin, Benjamin