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.
"For the past decade we have seen a significant surge in the number of biographies written about the Founding Fathers, a phenomenon some have derisively labeled Founders Chic. Gordon Wood's The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin is not just another entry into the bloated corpus of Founders Chic. In fact, Wood is a bit perplexed how, when, and why Benjamin Franklin became a so-called Founding Father in the first place. Focusing on the process of becoming each chapter title begins with that verb Americanization puts Franklin's tortured journey toward Founder under the microscope with fascinating and surprising results. Wood's Franklin is quite different from the myth. Far from the hard-working, self-made Philadelphian of Poor Richard fame, Wood cuts through the legend to the historical man. Here we see Ben as we never really have before: Franklin the ardent royalist who encouraged Britain to pass the Stamp Act and consolidate Crown authority; Franklin the aspiring, somewhat effete gentleman who used patronage to gain wealth and influence; Franklin the American diplomat who was loved far more in England and France than he ever was in the new United States; Franklin the victim who suffered withering attacks from his enemies in the Revolutionary leadership; and Franklin the pathetic old man who had to list all his achievements during the Revolution in order to convince a reluctant Congress to reimburse him for diplomatic expenses. In many ways, Americanization is an extension of Wood's Pulitzer Prize–winning Radicalism of the American Revolution (1991). Franklin's struggles with a monarchical culture that became republican and ultimately democratic personify the larger processes many other Americans dealt with as a result of the Revolution, according to Wood. In fact, Wood explains that the results of this radical Revolution that all Americans since the 19th century have lived with including the celebration of individualism, hard work, and self-made men created the mythical Ben Franklin and obscured the real man in the first place. Respectful but not genuflecting, moving but also searching, this is biography at its best." Reviewed by Robert G. Parkinson, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
"[Wood] possesses as profound a grasp of the early days of the Republic as anyone now working..." —The New York Times Book Review
"I cannot remember ever reading a work of history and biography that is quite so fluent, so perfectly composed and balanced..." —The New York Sun
"[Gordon Wood] conveys complex ideas in beguilingly simple prose, and deftly weaves the connections between the different Franklins." —John Brewer, The New York Review of Books
"Exceptionally rich perspective on one of the most accomplished, complex, and unpredictable Americans of his own time or any other." —The Washington Post Book World
"An illuminating, accessible and entertaining contribution to the growing literature about Benjamin Franklin." —San Francisco Chronicle
"and#91;Woodand#93; possesses as profound a grasp of the early days of the Republic as anyone now working..."andnbsp;andmdash;The New York Times Book Review
"I cannot remember ever reading a work of history and biography that is quite so fluent, so perfectly composed and balanced..." andmdash;The New York Sun
"and#91;Gordon Woodand#93; conveys complex ideas in beguilingly simple prose, and deftly weaves the connections between the different Franklins." andmdash;John Brewer, The New York Review of Books
"Exceptionally rich perspective on one of the most accomplished, complex, and unpredictable Americans of his own time or any other." andmdash;The Washington Post Book World
"An illuminating, accessible and entertaining contribution to the growing literature about Benjamin Franklin." andmdash;San Francisco Chronicle
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