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Paperback Benjamin Franklin : An American Life Book

ISBN: 074325807X

ISBN13: 9780743258074

Benjamin Franklin : An American Life

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During his 84-year life Benjamin Franklin was America's best scientist, inventor, publisher, business strategist, diplomat, and writer. He was also one of its most practical political thinkers. America's first great publicist, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public and polished it for posterity. In this riveting new biography Walter Isaacson provides readers with a full portrait of Franklin's public and private life - his loyal...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

Getting to know Ben!

This the best bio of BF out there

I'm giving Walter Isaacson's biography five stars for its fairness, its comprehensiveness, accuracy, the incisiveness of its insights, but most of all, for its readability. I think this is what puts it above other Franklin biographies I've read - it somehow manages the feat of being a very engaging, pleasant read, from the first page to the last, while plumbing each interesting depth of Franklin's life.In particular, I admired how Isaacson explored the nature of Franklin's religious belief, letting Franklin speak for himself on what he felt man's duty to God and his neighbor consisted of. I also appreciated the seriousness with which Isaacson dealt with Franklin's often underappreciated scientific achievements, clarifying just how beneficial the effects of his experiments with lightning and electricity were almost immediately (within a very short time, many lives were saved around the world just because of Franklin's lightning rod, etc.). Lastly, as readers of Franklin's autobiography know, he was very funny, and I was glad that Isaacson allowed that charm and humor to be displayed. Edmund S. Morgan's recent biography of Franklin, for all its strengths, has to take second place to Isaacson's outstanding book. I know this review probably sounds like it was written by Walter Isaacson himself under a pseudonym or something, but the truth is, I can't really think of a single criticism to make of this one.

A Serious and Fully Enjoyable Read

If you are looking for a holiday gift that is both serious and enjoyable while capturing much of the spirit of America's founding, you need go no further than "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life." Isaacson understands something about the American Revolution and the founding fathers that many students of the era never quite get. Each founding father plays an essential role in our becoming an independent republic. Washington is the titan of moral authority on whose integrity our nation rests. Jefferson is the brilliant writer and theorist who helped create modern politics. Madison's systematic hard work created the system of legislative power and constitutional authority that protects our freedoms. Hamilton's understanding of economics and social forces established the capitalist structure, which has made this the wealthiest society in history. Yet in the deepest sense, these great men were pre-American. They belonged to an earlier, different era where most were landed gentry. Even Hamilton longed for the stability of monarchy. Only Franklin personified the striving, ambitious, rising system of individual achievement, hard work, thrift and optimism found at the heart of the American spirit. Only Franklin worked his way up in the worlds of business and organized political power in both colonial and national periods. Only Franklin was a world-renowned scientist, founder of corporations, inventor of devices and creator of the American mythos of the common man. Gordon Wood's "The Radicalism of the American Revolution" caught intellectually this sudden shift from the stable, serious gentry who dominated the founding to the wild, energetic, boisterous Jacksonians who came to define the American ethos. Franklin is the precursor to the Jacksonians. He personified, literally lived, the American dream and then captured it in an amazingly self aware, fun to read autobiography, which may be the first great book of the American civilization. Isaacson has captured and portrayed Franklin in all his glory and complexity. This is a book worth giving any of your friends who would better understand America or any foreigner who wonders at our energy, our resilience, our confidence and our success.

Discover Franklin and Discover America!

Ben Franklin An American Life by Walter Isaacson is a book that should be required reading for all American high school students. I wish I had read this book thirty years ago for this book has transformed my cartoonish, single-dimensioned view of Benjamin Franklin into the multi-dimensional, sometimes controversial, and at all times entertaining historical figure he actually was. And while we view Mr. Franklin through the eyes of Author Walter Isaacson, his opinions are mostly invisible throughout almost 600 pages of text, allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions.We know Ben Franklin today mostly as one of the founding fathers. But his presence in our lives comes mostly to us through companies that either bear his name or use his likeness in advertising. Generally we think of Franklin as a wise man whose Poor Richards Almanack and thirteen virtues remind us to work hard to improve ourselves. His character is affiliated with savings, with insurance, with investments and a whole host of products, which we buy because we should. Because it would be the right thing to do, if not the most desired thing to do. After reading Isaacson's book, I believe Franklin would get a chuckle out of what we have turned him into.I don't mean that Isaacson portrays Franklin as a fool. He certainly was not that. Isaacson allows us to see Franklin as so much more than his own Autobiography would have us know of him. Mr. Franklin was a great man, great in science, printing, writing, diplomacy, and democracy. Indeed he was the first great promoter of the middle class in America. He believed in the ability of man to make himself better. Certainly he was a self-made man.But he was also great in the way he lived his life. He loved to travel. As postmaster, he saw more of America probably than any American of his era. His wanderlust did not stop on this side of the Atlantic. He also visited most of Europe. For that matter he lived most of the second half of his life in Europe. Perhaps what I enjoyed so much about Isaacson's book was learning what Franklin was not. For example, he was not American, as we think of him, until very close to the actual Revolution. For most of his life, Franklin saw himself as a loyal citizen of the throne of England and worked mightily to avoid the very Independence Day in which Americans remember him so highly. He viewed the problems with England as a problem first with the Proprietors, then with the Legislature, and only finally with the king himself. If it had been possible to maintain America as an expanded part of England, with equal rights and responsibilities, Franklin would have happily supported such a plan.Also while Franklin was great in many endeavors, he was not a particularly good family man. He married his wife more out of expedience and necessity than out of romantic inclination. He needed a mother for his newborn son, William, and Deborah (not William's mother) was a willing candidate. Franklin lived fifteen of the final 18

Terrific Biography

This is simply a terrific sweeping biography. Its primary sources are Franklin's voluminous writing and the letters and writings of his contemporaries. Mr. Isaacson added some pertinent observationss by historians. The mix makes for not only interesting and well-researched reading, but entertaining reading as well. Mr. Isaacson ties his themes (or theories) of Franklin from the begginning to the end. Thus one can see characteristics of the man that started in his youth and carried through to old age sometimes with no or minor changes, a few times with significant metamorphes. The end result is that the biography flows naturally.The author also used well chapter and sub-chapter delineations which aid the reader throughout.The perspective is a unique one. Therefore if you have read another Franklin biography, do not hesitate to pick this one up. It is strongly recommended for both those who are familliar with the man and those who know little of Franklin.

A few miscellaneous comments

This is a well-written, detailed, and overall very impressive biography of Franklin, very reminiscent of the recent John Adam's bio. I've read numerous articles about the great founding father over the years, and one other biography, and have read his autobiography, but nothing so extensive as this. As others have already written very detailed reviews, I just had a few miscellaneous comments.The author does a fine job of showing what a Renaissance man Franklin truly was. Most people are familiar with his greatest accomplishments, such as his research into electricity and his roles in the founding of the nation, but he had many other less well-known achievements as well that were also interesting and important. He founded the Saturday Evening Post, which ran for almost 200 years until it finally died in the 70's or 80's, if I remember correctly. He emphasized practical education rather than the Latin-based curricula popular at the time in schools, and founded academies to implement his ideas. He invented bifocals and a flexible urinary catheter which helped people with kidney stones. He invented Daylight Savings Time and originated the Farmer's Almanac, which still survives today. He invented a more efficient iron furnace stove and an early odometer for measuring distance, which he attached to his carriage. He was responsible for the creation of the U.S. Post Office, and invented the lightning rod, which was the invention Franklin was most famous for during his lifetime, since it saved numerous tall structures from damage.I'll mention only other of his scientific accomplishments, since it's not as well known as his work in electricity. Franklin observed that northeast storms begin in the southwest, and thought it was strange that storms travel in a direction opposite to their prevailing winds. Today we know this is because of the the way in which cold and warm fronts are affected by high and low pressure zones that form in the atmostphere, but Franklin anticipated these advances by predicting that a storm's course could be plotted. He once rode his horse through a storm and chased a whirlwind 3/4 of a mile during his research on storms. So Franklin was even something of a meteorologist. After witnessing the Montgolfier bothers balloon flight in 1783 in Paris, he predicted that ballons would be used for spy surveillance and for dropping bombs.Franklin had a significant influence on my own life. Coincidently, I discovered and read Franklin's autobiography when I was 12 years old, which was how old Franklin was when he left home. I took many of his principles to heart as a young boy, and they've served me well. His values of hard work, moderation in all things, and insatiable intellectual curiosity were ones that influenced me strongly as well. In college, I studied and eventually did advanced work in both the humanities and the hard sciences, although that meant a lot of extra homework for myself, since the advanced math courses were quite difficult

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life Mentions in Our Blog

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life in From Page to Screen
From Page to Screen
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With a slew of book adaptations from a variety of genres hitting the television screen this month, don’t miss out on your chance to compare the original books to their TV counterparts. We’ve also rounded up the latest film/TV announcements so you can get a head start.  
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