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In this authoritative and engrossing full-scale biography, Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Einstein and Steve Jobs, shows how the most fascinating of America's founders helped define our national character.

Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us, the one who seems made of flesh rather than marble. In a sweeping narrative that follows Franklin’s life from Boston to Philadelphia to London and Paris and back, Walter Isaacson chronicles the adventures of the runaway apprentice who became, over the course of his eighty-four-year life, America’s best writer, inventor, media baron, scientist, diplomat, and business strategist, as well as one of its most practical and ingenious political leaders. He explores the wit behind Poor Richard’s Almanac and the wisdom behind the Declaration of Independence, the new nation’s alliance with France, the treaty that ended the Revolution, and the compromises that created a near-perfect Constitution.

In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin’s amazing life, showing how he helped to forge the American national identity and why he has a particular resonance in the twenty-first century.

Topics: United States of America, Philadelphia, American Revolutionary Period, Founding Fathers, American History, American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, Politics, Leadership, Innovation, Diplomacy, and Informative

Published: Simon & Schuster on Jul 31, 2003
ISBN: 9780743260848
List price: $11.99
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Fascinating from beginning to end. If Franklin doesn't become one of your heroes after reading this book, well....I just don't know what to say. Imagine if people who actually had to make their way in the world and work for a living, like Franklin, were still able to run the country.read more
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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life is bar-none the best biography I have ever read.Walter Isaacson takes us on a journey with Benjamin Franklin from the cradle to the grave, through decades and generations of scientifically and personal achievements, setbacks and misfortunes.The book itself is easy to read, told through chronological glimpses at Benjamin Franklin's life rather than working towards an overall swiping grand achievement, a mistake, I believe, which is done by many biographers.Think of you own life?Do you want think that there is only one story of grand achievement to tell or many little stories which might give the reader a new perspective and an opportunity to know more about you than just a footnote in history.We all know Benjamin Franklin from history classes and the teacher might have mentioned his other notable achievements, however Mr. Franklin had many notable achievements - far too many to mention in a 45 minute classroom. This biography is a terrific sweeping read and full of insights.One of the best points about this book is that Benjamin Franklin, even though a loyal subject to the crown for most of his life, is a contemporary American - or certainly what we think of ourselves as and what we like to achieve: hard working, inventive, brave, curious, a PR maven and rich.A recommended read and a wonderful gift.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
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Fascinating from beginning to end. If Franklin doesn't become one of your heroes after reading this book, well....I just don't know what to say. Imagine if people who actually had to make their way in the world and work for a living, like Franklin, were still able to run the country.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Benjamin Franklin: An American Life is bar-none the best biography I have ever read.Walter Isaacson takes us on a journey with Benjamin Franklin from the cradle to the grave, through decades and generations of scientifically and personal achievements, setbacks and misfortunes.The book itself is easy to read, told through chronological glimpses at Benjamin Franklin's life rather than working towards an overall swiping grand achievement, a mistake, I believe, which is done by many biographers.Think of you own life?Do you want think that there is only one story of grand achievement to tell or many little stories which might give the reader a new perspective and an opportunity to know more about you than just a footnote in history.We all know Benjamin Franklin from history classes and the teacher might have mentioned his other notable achievements, however Mr. Franklin had many notable achievements - far too many to mention in a 45 minute classroom. This biography is a terrific sweeping read and full of insights.One of the best points about this book is that Benjamin Franklin, even though a loyal subject to the crown for most of his life, is a contemporary American - or certainly what we think of ourselves as and what we like to achieve: hard working, inventive, brave, curious, a PR maven and rich.A recommended read and a wonderful gift.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I thought Walter Isaacson’s bio of Benjamin Franklin to be a fascinating read into this outstanding patriot. I always believed that Franklin was one of the cornerstones in the founding of our great nation. Mr. Isaacson does an excellent job of bringing out Franklin’s achievements both in the personal and political arena. It’s a great bio and if want to know about this patriot then I highly recommend this book.
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I've been learning more about this early American leader for my BBF walking tour and I find him increasingly fascinating the more I learn about him. Isaacson writes a lively narrative with a good balance between historical accuracy and popular history as well as warts & all without sensationalism.I won't go into a detailed summary of the book but here are a few elements that stand out for me: Isaacson goes beyond simple biographical details and makes a good attempt at an intellectual history of Franklin, especially in the earlier parts of the book. Franklin, for all his virtues, was not above getting dirty in politics. It's interesting to compare to the recent book I read about Aaron Burr and how differently their posthumous reputations have been adjudged when they were both very much men of their times. Then there's the idolatrous manner in which the Founding Fathers are revered in comparison to today's "corrupt politicians" which just isn't realistic. Franklin had an interesting habit of forming a surrogate family around him when he was away from home for extended periods, acting in an avuncular role for bright young women and his own grandsons. Yet he was often distant from his own children and spent many, many years separated from his wife. Another interesting contrast: Franklin has been called "the first American" and famously wore frontier-style clothing when visiting the French court, yet he seemed to jump at any opportunity to go to Europe and lived abroad in London and Paris for extended portions of his life. All in all this is a great introduction to a fascinating and hard to understand man.
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I can't really tell you why this biography took me a year to finish. Laziness on my part most likely rather than any fault of the author or his subject. After reading the exhaustive work on John Adams by David McCullough, I felt like I should read about Adams's contemporaries and when I noticed this book collecting dust at my mom's house, I took it home. I guess it was the known quantity aspect of the biography that made it slow going for me. In broad strokes I knew how things would turn out; that eventually we'd get France's reluctant backing in the separation from Britain, that we'd win the war and that Franklin's behind-the-scenes efforts to effect both outcomes were constant and often the only efforts.Franklin the man was a sketch for me though, even if I did somewhat know him through the long tunnel of history. I knew of his scientific and inventing contributions, but didn't know how early on he made some of his discoveries - the popular motif of Franklin as an old man with a kite is way off base. I also had no idea of his origins, how he came to the Colonies or early civic activities and now I feel on better ground. Everything he did was motivated out of a desire for a practical benefit. This might not put him in the same league as theoretical or "pure" scientists, but it does make his contributions feel more lasting.I also have a better understanding of his attitude toward setting up an independent state and his role in doing so. He was a master of diplomacy and compromise in the face of strong personalities with little patience for the process. His ability to work with others and get the best out of them proved invaluable to not only the Declaration of Independence and the diplomatic missions it spawned, but the Constitution itself - calling it as near perfect as it could be.Isaacson presents his information in an ostensible chronological format, but often the facts he presents seem to be competing for attention. They come thick and fast and are sometimes difficult to digest before another one comes along. He does, however, try to present all sides of his subject, not just dwelling on the inventor or diplomat. I don't have enough experience with biographies or enough expertise on the academics that are thought of as proper, or research techniques thought of as rigorous, but I did not doubt that Isaacson gave us the facts as he saw them. I was glad for the information at the back about characters and sources.
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