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The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin Hardcover – May 24, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 63 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Eminent revolutionary historian Wood illuminates the life and times of perhaps our nation's most symbolic yet enigmatic forefather. Born of modest roots, Benjamin Franklin displayed from an early age a sharp mind and a literary gift, which served him as he went on to amass a small fortune, mostly as a printer, and to emerge as a civic leader. Wood, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for The Radicalism of the American Revolution, shows how Franklin's skills and charm enabled him to complete the remarkable transition from humble beginnings to gentlemanly status, occupying his later years with scientific experiments, philosophy and statesmanship. Wood also introduces us to Franklin the loyal British subject, who could scarcely conceive of a colonial government independent of the British, yet, in 1776, at the age of 70, came to play a key role in the Revolution. He secured the help of the French, who in turn helped ultimately to define Franklin as the "symbolic American." This is not a comprehensive biography. Instead, Wood's purpose is to supplant our common knowledge of Franklin as the iconic, folksy author of Poor Richard's Almanac with a different, richer portrait, a look at how a man "not even destined to be an American" became, paradoxically, the "symbol of America." What emerges is a fascinating portrait of Franklin, not only as a forefather but as a man. Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School - This fascinating account provides a vivid picture of an extraordinary man adapting to changing times. Franklin was an intensely loyal British subject who looked forward to the time when he would take an active role in Britain's imperial schemes. His unshaken faith that the monarchy would inevitably behave fairly to the colonists blinded him to the growth of an increasingly powerful anti-British sentiment. Wood shows how Franklin was often completely out of touch with public opinion. At his death, America's brief, perfunctory eulogies sharply contrasted with the national mourning for him in France. In the 19th century, Franklin was rediscovered as the homespun philosopher, a simple man most noteworthy for his emphasis on self-improvement and industry. He was far more, as readers will discover. Black-and-white illustrations are included. - Kathy Tewell, Chantilly Regional Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press; First Edition edition (May 24, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159420019X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200199
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #996,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Currie-Knight VINE VOICE on August 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As one who has always been passionate about early American history, I must confess that untill reading Dr. Wood's fine character study, I have not read any books devoted to Benjamin Franklin. Like many others, then, I came to this book imbued by the vision of Franklin that sees him first and foremost as the self-made business person that authored "Poor Richard's Almanac," and the "Autobiography." My vision of Franklin was of the champion of pulling onesself up by one's bootstraps, temperance, and frugality.

Dr. Wood's intention with this book is not so much to dispel this vision - Franklin was indeed those things - as to augment it by filling in those lesser known bits of Franklin's life. While he was the self-made business man and champion of industry, he was also a man who, from there, forayed into the life of a gentleman of leisure and loved every minute of it. While he was a passionate American revolutionary, he was, before all that, a man who passionately believed in the British Empire and worked tirelessly to reconcile American and British inerests. While he was a man who was eventually loved by posterity as a true and exemplary American, he was, during his lifetime, just as often mistrusted and even scorned by fellow Americans.

Dr. Wood, then, has written not so much a biography as a character study that works to explain (a) how Benjamin Franklin morphed into all of these multifarious roles, (b) how, remarkably, he was successful at all of them (well, all but one; you'll see!), and (c) how it wasn't untill after his death that Franklin's early life as a business-person was focused on almost to exclusion of all else, in essence, transforming his image to that of the quintessential American.

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Format: Hardcover
"The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin" is not a traditional biography of the Founding Father's remarkable life but a more selective study of specific aspects of his life as they relate to his enduring popular image. Wood's purpose is to recover the historic Franklin who has been replaced my a series of images and representations over the past two hundred years as he came to be known as "the first American."
The grand irony is that before he personified being "American" to all of Western civilization, Franklin was the most British of the colonists; Wood argues that Franklin's emotional commitment to the vision of a pan-British world was rivaled only by that of William Pitt the Elder. That is important for understanding how a man who would sign his name to the Declaration of Independence was, two decades earlier, beseeching the King of England to make Pennsylvania a Crown colony. It was not just because of antipathy for the Penn family, but because Franklin believed whole-heartedly in the beneficence of the British monarchy. However, when it became clear that he was not going to be considered truly British--and if Dr. Franklin could not be accorded that right then clearly no Colonial ever would--that Franklin embraced the idea of being something else. In that regard he was similar to George Washington, whose chief ambition was to be a serving British officer and who was treated with even greater disdain by those he aspired to be like.
Wood makes his case by tracing Franklin's evolution through five key stages.
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This book reads like a novel and is difficult to put down. The author tries to get into BF's mind - not a simple task. While Wood doesn't leave out BF's failures, it is easy to be overwhelmed with how talented this man was. Although his whole life is reviewed, I would like to cover in this review something only hinted at in the last chapter.

When BF was in his young to middle-aged working life, he created, among other things, Poor Richard's Almanac. This was first published in 1733 - full of common sense, admonitions to industry and frugality, and homespun proverbs. His last edition was in 1758, reprinted separately as "The Way To Wealth," and attributed to a "Father Abraham."

Later, when BF was in a rare depression following a political failure in England, a friend convinced him he owed it to the public to write an autobiography. He began the first installment as advice to his son, William, and wrote additional entries over a number of years.

BF loved Europe, and they loved him. His work in electricity in his early 40's earned him an international reputation, complete with multiple honorary degrees. Perhaps because he spent so much time abroad, perhaps because his political enemies set the tone, he was not as appreciated in his home country. Interestingly, he made it back for the writing of the both the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution 11 years later.

After BF died, he was virtually ignored in America, while France proclaimed 3 days of mourning and made him a national hero. This contrast is more than striking. There were many signers to the Declaration of Independence, yet only a few of them stand out in America as household names. The rest of them have varied lesser legacies, with perhaps only short encyclopedia entries.
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