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Benjamin Franklin, writes journalist and biographer Walter Isaacson, was that rare Founding Father who would sooner wink at a passer-by than sit still for a formal portrait. What's more, Isaacson relates in this fluent and entertaining biography, the revolutionary leader represents a political tradition that has been all but forgotten today, one that prizes pragmatism over moralism, religious tolerance over fundamentalist rigidity, and social mobility over class privilege. That broadly democratic sensibility allowed Franklin his contradictions, as Isaacson shows. Though a man of lofty principles, Franklin wasn't shy of using sex to sell the newspapers he edited and published; though far from frivolous, he liked his toys and his mortal pleasures; and though he sometimes gave off a simpleton image, he was a shrewd and even crafty politician. Isaacson doesn't shy from enumerating Franklins occasional peccadilloes and shortcomings, in keeping with the iconoclastic nature of our time--none of which, however, stops him from considering Benjamin Franklin "the most accomplished American of his age," and one of the most admirable of any era. And heres one bit of proof: as a young man, Ben Franklin regularly went without food in order to buy books. His example, as always, is a good one--and this is just the book to buy with the proceeds from the grocery budget. --Gregory McNamee
Following closely on the heels of Edmund Morgan's justly acclaimed Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson's longer biography easily holds its own. How do the two books differ? Isaacson's is more detailed; it lingers over such matters as the nature of Franklin's complex family circumstances and his relations with others, and it pays closer attention to each of his extraordinary achievements. Morgan's is more subtle and reflective. Each in its different way is superb. Isaacson (now president of the Aspen Institute, he is the former chairman of CNN and a Henry Kissinger biographer) 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. After examining the large body of existing Franklin scholarship as skillfully and critically as any scholar, Isaacson admits that his subject always "winks at us" to keep us at bay-which of course is one reason why he's so fascinating. Unlike, say, David McCullough's John Adams, which seeks to restore Adams to public affection, this book has no overriding agenda except to present the story of Franklin's life. Unfortunately, for all its length, it's a book of connected short segments without artful, easy transitions So whether this fresh and lively work will replace Carl Van Doren's beloved 1938 Benjamin Franklin in readers' esteem remains to be seen.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
This is a great biography. Well researched, poignant, and punctuated with many wonderful insights into one of history's most colorful characters. Highly recommended!Published 1 day ago by Eric Richard Dallaire
I didn’t plan it this way, but choosing to read Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson when I did was providential. Read morePublished 4 days ago by Mac McCormick III
I could not put this book down. Walter Isaacson has written a fabulous book that is a joy to read. I recommend this book for anyone who wants to learn more about this remarkable... Read morePublished 19 days ago by Kevin G. Finch
Fascinating biography of a fascinating important person in our history. Highly recommened.Published 24 days ago by C. M.Henry
Very readable bio. Never realized I knew so little about Franklin. Isaacson presents him in a favorable light (as he should) but does not shy from the human foibles. Read morePublished 26 days ago by Les C
It seemed like a superficial treatment of Franklin. I would have liked a much more in-depth treatment of Franklin. Read morePublished 29 days ago by George A. Barnett