Synopses & Reviews
Central to America's idea of itself is the character of Benjamin Franklin. We all know him, or think we do: In recent works and in our inherited conventional wisdom, he remains fixed in place as a genial polymath and self-improver who was so very American that he is known by us all as the first American. The problem with this beloved notion of Franklin's quintessential Americanness, Gordon Wood shows us in this marvelous, revelatory book, is that it's simply not true. And it blinds us to the no less admirable or important but far more interesting man Franklin really was and leaves us powerless to make sense of the most crucial events of his life. Indeed, thinking of Franklin as the last American would be less of a hindrance to understanding many crucial aspects of his life--his preoccupation with becoming a gentleman; his longtime loyalty to the Crown and burning ambition to be a player in the British Empire's power structure; the personal character of his conversion to revolutionary; his reasons for writing the Autobiography; his controversies with John and Samuel Adams and with Congress; his love of Europe and conflicted sense of national identity; the fact that his death was greeted by mass mourning in France and widely ignored in America. But Franklin did become the Revolution's necessary man, Wood shows, second behind George Washington. Why was his importance so denigrated in his own lifetime and his image so distorted ever since? Ironically, Franklin's diplomacy in France, which was essential to American victory, was the cause of the suspicion that clouded his good name at home--and also the stage on which the first American persona made its debut. The consolidation of thismirage of Franklin would await the early nineteenth century, though, when the mask he created in his posthumously published Autobiography proved to be the model the citizens of a striving young democracy needed. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin is a landmark work, a magnificent fresh vision of Franklin's life and reputation, filled with profound insights into the Revolution and into the emergence of America's idea of itself.
Wood scrutinizes the less typically American traits possessed by Franklin--such as his longtime loyalty to the Crown--and why he still became one of the Revolution's necessary men.
From the most respected chronicler of the early days of the Republic—and winner of both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes—comes a landmark work that rescues Benjamin Franklin from a mythology that has blinded generations of Americans to the man he really was and makes sense of aspects of his life and career that would have otherwise remained mysterious. In place of the genial polymath, self-improver, and quintessential American, Gordon S. Wood reveals a figure much more ambiguous and complex—and much more interesting. Charting the passage of Franklin’s life and reputation from relative popular indifference (his death, while the occasion for mass mourning in France, was widely ignored in America) to posthumous glory, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin sheds invaluable light on the emergence of our country’s idea of itself.
About the Author
Gordon S. Wood is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History at Brown University. His books include The Creation of the American Republic: 1776 1787, which won the Bancroft Prize; the Pulitzer Prizewinning The Radicalism of the American Revolution; and The American Revolution: A History.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrationsand#160;and#160; xv
- Becoming a Gentlemanand#160;and#160; 17
- Becoming a British Imperialistand#160;and#160; 61
- Becoming a Patriotand#160;and#160; 105
- Becoming a Diplomatand#160;and#160; 153
- Becoming an Americanand#160;and#160; 201