From Publishers Weekly
Why another biography of Franklin? Because this is a distinctive, long-overdue effort to ask some tough questions about someone who is usually given a pass for his genius and charm by otherwise critical historians and biographers. If Waldstreicher's writing isn't as deft as, say, David McCullough's, it's more searching and more balanced. This biography explores Franklin's relationship to free labor and slavery. Himself an indentured servant in his youth, Franklin was inordinately sensitive to questions of freedom and servitude. Yet he was a slaveholder for part of his life and, in Waldstreicher's telling, spoke in circles to avoid having to take a stand for or against racial slavery and those who sought to flee it. Temple University historian Waldstreicher (In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes
) skillfully sets Franklin's posture in the context of 18th-century Northern prevarication and racism, but the book's effect is to desacralize Franklin. It reveals the founder's dissimulation in his brilliant, beloved Autobiography
and other writings that have been used—wrongly, it turns out—to place him among the nation's early antislavery reformers. Waldstreicher might have dug more deeply into the psychological roots of Franklin's complex behavior. Yet this penetrating interpretation, one that's likely to dismay Franklin's hagiographers, is true to the man, his times and the facts. 16 pages of b&w illus. not seen by PW
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About the Author
David Waldstreicher, professor of history at Notre Dame, is author of In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism and editor of Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (Bedford Books).