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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life Paperback – June 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
The fault of the book, then, is its subject, but how Isaacson writes about him. Its chief fault is the lack of narrative flair: With the notable exception of the first and last chapters, we have a chronological account broken into small sections. Here's one particularly mundane succession: "Constitutional Ideas" (a mere 2 pages)," "Meeting Lord Howe Again (5 pages)," "To France, with Temple and Benny (4 pages)." A more satisfying approach would have traced Franklin's domestic political thought in one larger chapter, but this would violate Isaakson's chronological imperative. At times the book's equally weighted, well-ordered facts yield a pace that is both plodding and boring. The book is best when it manages to integrate larger themes with the strictly biographical details.
Comparing this biography with David McCullough's popular "John Adams," shows that McCullough's book is more fully realized and more "modern," as he interprets themes and implications within broader contexts.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Benjamin Franklin has always been one of my favorite Founding Fathers. Isaacson's book brings Mr. Franklin to life in a respectful and occasionally cheeky way. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Whitney Reinhart
Ben was hedging his bet that the US just might loose the revolutionary war and became quite comfortable abroad with his French allies. Read morePublished 13 days ago by reji
Benjamin Franklin was a complicated personality whose political views changed over time. Franklin used Greek Philosophy as stepping stones from which he derived his first views on... Read morePublished 22 days ago by S. Davidson
I came upon Isaacson's writing when I became curious about Einstein. His presentation of Einstein was portrayed as accessible for those of us who are not scientists but that... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Cece
I bought this for a history teacher who loves to read bios, and she said she loved it. I then purchased it and read it myself, and I too found it fantastic. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Rainbowshowers
Extremely well written with important perspective that sheds light on today's American values and way of life. Isaacson's eye for meaning is superb. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
It was fascinating to learn of the vast potential which Ben Franklin tapped into and the fun he had along the way. What a colorful and complicated character. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Mike Doppelt