- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 24 hours and 45 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
- Audible.com Release Date: April 7, 2011
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English
- ASIN: B004VLETYM
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life Audiobook – Unabridged
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Isaacson is very passionate for his subject and that is something that he cannot keep veiled very well. The beginning of the book starts out slow but once he gets moving then he keeps a strong steady pace. It is refreshing to see a writer with so much enthusiasm for his subject and while some historians frown on that; I don't. I like the way he traces Franklin's life and family history. In fact, his family history really gives us a context for understanding the way Franklin thought and acted. His strong puritanical upbringing did not make him a religious man, but it did tend to create a desire to be socially proactive. In fact, I appreciate the way that Isaacson traced the religious journey of Franklin and I wish that more authors would concentrate on this aspect of the political/ social figures they are writing about. Franklin's religious life is not one that is static but rather one that was constantly evolving and moving towards a more coherent view. His religion like everything else in his life, was strongly pragmatic. In many ways, we find in Dr. Franklin that strong American pragmatism that has come to define the American people in the past and present.
Franklin's home life was a very slippery slope and it was difficult to know what to make of his relationship with family. Franklin had a son born out of wedlock and their relationship was rocky thoughout his life, and particularly at the latter end. He had a grandson by this son that was also born out of wedlock and yet he loved this boy, perhaps even more than his own son. His marriage to Deborah was also very strange. Some historians have concluded or at least suggested that Franklin did not love her. He spent years of his life away from her and his letters do not reveal a tender affection towards her. Yet, Isaacson suggests that there is a way in which Franklin did regard her. Many have painted him as a philanderer whose nefarious dalliances and sexual escapades are among the most outrageous among the founders. Isaacson suggests that while Franklin certainly had emotional affairs that he remained faithful to his wife. To be honest with you, it seems a little difficult to believe. It is hard to imagine that a man who sits in a bathtub with another woman is not physically involved with her. I think he is right that we should assume that Franklin was probably not as wild as he is taken to be, but I am not convinced of his monogamy. This was an area where I felt the authors personal feelings for his subject may have interfered with his better judgment.
The writing style of the author was easy and generally engaging despite the fact that I thought he had a weak beginning. There were a few discrepancies that caught my attention and I will have to read a great deal more about this topic to be certain. Most people know that John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were selected to help Thomas Jefferson in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Most historians seem to suggest that Adams was the one who really pushed for Jefferson to write it and states his reasons as: 1. Jefferson is a Virginian and a Virginian should be at the head of this business. 2. Jefferson was liked while he thought himself to be obnoxious and not well liked by many in Congress. 3. Jefferson is a far more eloquent writer than the others. Isaacson suggests that it was Franklin who said this not Adams. This seems to be a mistake as Franklin is the one who is thought to have suggested Jefferson change "sacred and inviolable" to "inalienable" because the former smacked of the pulpit. I think that it was in fact Adams who stated the three basic reasons that Jefferson should write the document. Franklin was not obnoxious and seemed to always be generally well thought of and that alone caused me to question Isaacson on this point. There were other small issues that I wondered about through the book. Generally, he seemed to be factually accurate and his writing style was interesting enough to attract a reader who may not be prone to read history books.
I was happy to see that this writer spent a great deal of time salvaging the reputation of Franklin. His reputation has suffered as he is often portrayed as an intelligent man that prone to buffoonery. Certainly, he had a sense of humor and he could be somewhat crude. The funniest piece I read was his fake letter to the royal academy of farts. However, to see Franklin as a mere jester is to miss the force of his convictions, visions, and political prowess. Franklin had the foresight to see that America needed to unite along the lines of the Iroquois Confederacy long before many others. He was a man who believed in internal improvements, pragmatic scientific discovery, and a strong middle class. His vision for this nation has been a strong guidepost for two centuries of American thought. His work as a diplomat in France is a model for modern diplomacy. He was a fox when it came to dealing with other humans and his penchant for compromise is what helped to give us the constitution that we know have.
Overall, it was a good work that serves as a solid starting point for Franklin's life. He honored Franklin and while he was often soft on his shortcomings he did not altogether deny them. His portrayal of Adams seemed a little warped and his dislike of Adams bled through the descriptions. While I know that Adams had a side that made him a hard man to deal with, I did not always feel that he gave hm enough credit. His ending was solid and I love the way that he wrapped up the loose ends by explaining what happened to Franklin's family and close friends. It would have been nice if the book had included images so as to see some of the people that are discussed throughout the book. These are just minor complaints and do not detract from the work in any significant way.I will give it 1 star for readablity, 1 star for solid research, 1 star for bibliography, and 1 star for content. As far as the last star is concerned I would take away 1/2 star for minor discrepancies and a 1/2 star for the slow and laborious start to the book.
The author previously wrote a biography of Steve Jobs, and clearly has an interest in business. Much time is spent on Franklin's early years as a businessman, which I did not find as interesting as his politics. Much time is spent on British colonial economic policy, which I did find very interesting and informative. Additionally, it helped explain why the Tea Partiers were so violently opposed to the taxes and duties. The British government had enacted many policies to keep the colonies economically dependent on the mother country, such as outlawing ironworks in the colonies and suppressing manufacturing. I've read quite a few books about the Revolution and this was the most unexpectedly edifying on the motivations of the rebels in that aspect. This book justifies it's price on that subject alone. (Those uncomfortable with economics should know it was explained clearly enough that I could understand it well, despite having never taken an economics course.)
Additionally, Franklin finally gets his due as a world-class scientist in this biography. As a scientist myself, I wish more had gone into the process of his many discoveries, but it seems likely that there just wasn't enough source material to expand.
A note of criticism: in terms of psychological insight, the book leaves you a little bit wanting. His personal relationships with both men and women are notably detached and a little cold, but no real explanation is given for why this should be so for such an extroverted and warm man. The book quotes the opinion of other commentarors, such as conservative columnist David Brooks, quite a few times on the nature of his political beliefs. I would have preferred the authors own interpretations.
The description of Franklin's transition from a peacemaker who finds himself the target of anger from American rebels for being too inclined to seek compromise- to one of the most passionate voices for independence is elegantly done. When I finished the book I felt like I had real understanding of Franklin as a person full of contractions. A man who loathed conflict but supported a revolution, who wrote The Way to Wealth but was an ardent champion of the common man, who was the darling of the French Court but disliked aristocracy... In other words, a real person, not a cardboard cutout.