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The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin Paperback – March 12, 2002
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Benjamin Franklin may have been the most remarkable American ever to live: a printer, scientist, inventor, politician, diplomat, and--finally--an icon. His life was so sweeping that this comprehensive biography by H.W. Brands at times reads like a history of the United States during the 18th century. Franklin was at the center of America's transition from British colony to new nation, and was a kind of Founding Grandfather to the Founding Fathers; he was a full generation older than George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry, and they all viewed him with deep respect. "Of those patriots who made independence possible, none mattered more than Franklin, and only Washington mattered as much," writes Brands (author of a well-received Teddy Roosevelt biography, T.R.: The Last Romantic). Franklin was a complex character who sometimes came up a bit short in the personal virtue department, once commenting, "That hard-to-be-governed passion of youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women that fell in my way." When he married, another woman was already pregnant with his child--a son he took into his home and had his wife raise.
Franklin is best remembered for other things, of course. His still-famous Poor Richard's Almanac helped him secure enough financial freedom as a printer to retire and devote himself to the study of electricity (which began, amusingly, with experiments on chickens). His mind never rested: He invented bifocals, the armonica (a musical instrument made primarily of glass), and, in old age, a mechanical arm that allowed him to reach books stored on high shelves. He served American interests as a diplomat in Europe; without him, France might not have intervened in the American Revolution. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He possessed a sense of humor, too. In 1776, when John Hancock urged the colonies to "hang together," Franklin is said to have commented, "We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." Franklin's accomplishments were so numerous and varied that they threaten to read like a laundry list. Yet Brands pours them into an engrossing narrative, and they leap to life on these pages as the grand story of an exceptional man. The First American is an altogether excellent biography. --John J. Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
"Franklin's story is the story of a manDan exceedingly gifted man and a most engaging one. It is also the story of the birth of AmericaDan America this man discovered in himself, then helped create in the world at large," says Texas A&M historian Brands (T.R.: The Last Romantic, etc.) in the prologue to his stunning new work. Franklin's father took him out of school at age 11, but the boy assiduously sacrificed sleep (while working as an apprentice printer) to read and learn, giving himself rigorous exercises to develop his ease with language and discourse, among other disciplines. In essence, as Brands vividly demonstrates, Franklin defined the Renaissance man. He made multiple contributions to science (electricity, meteorology), invention (bifocal lenses, the Franklin furnace) and civic institutions (the American Philosophical Society, the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S. Post Office). But Brands is primarily concerned with Franklin's development as a thinker, politician and statesman and places his greatest emphasis there. In particular, Brands does an excellent job of capturing Franklin's exuberant versatility as a writer who adopted countless personaeDevidence of his gift for seeing the world through a variety of different lensesDthat not only predestined his prominence as a man of letters but also as an agile man of politics. From Franklin's progress as a self-declared "Briton"Dserving as London agent for Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and other coloniesDto his evolution as an American (wartime minister to France, senior peace negotiator with Britain and, finally, senior participant at the Constitutional Convention), Brands, with admirable insight and arresting narrative, constructs a portrait of a complex and influential man ("only Washington mattered as much") in a highly charged world. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Ten years ago I read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Franklin. It is very good. But Brands’ biography is 200 pages longer and there is no “filler.” There is more detail here and with Franklin the details are fascinating. Those details are often taken from his letters and writings. Brands knows when to interpolate primary source material and when not to. The writing is extremely smooth. The irony and light humor in so much of Franklin’s writing is also the way Brands writes this book. There are moments of genuine warmth and humor and, with Franklin, moments of a very human ribaldry such as his offer as a spry septuagenarian to Madame Brillon in Paris of his “beautiful, big horses.” Franklin’s relationship to his son William (who, as Royal governor of New Jersey, remained loyal to Britain) is spelled out here in detail and was much more complicated than I previously knew. Brands does a fine job of describing the early Franklin, his profession in printing and how that affected the rest of his life. Brands also points out in some detail Franklin’s arguments with the Penns and later his strained relationship with John Adams in France. The book is filled with fascinating tidbits of American history as experienced through the life of this unique human being. It is an excellent biography – intellectually stimulating, easy to follow, and completely enjoyable. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in American history.
This is an excellent biography of one of the, if not THE, preeminent Colonial personages. Benjamin Franklin was so prolific in deed that not only did he create a massive business empire from nothing, due to his political connections and diplomacy skills allowed for the French to enter the Revolution on the side of the Colonials (Treaty of Alliance and Treaty of Amity), of without there would have been no victory and the revolutionaries would have been hunted down, imprisoned, and most likely executed. Aside from these major accomplishments Franklin was also a prolific author, inventor, musician, and scientist. He held many patents and was simply curious about everything. Good old Ben loved the ladies as well and why not? He was the equivalent of a modern mega actor superstar. In France he inspired the Nation to desire everything "Franklin." He was an amazing man. Author H.W. Brands does a fantastic job bringing the life of Benjamin Franklin into understanding and context. He just doesn't narrate the timelines, he explains the thought processes of Franklin so that the reader can better know the reasons why he did what he did and ancillary effects that resulted. Again, great insight into the life of a remarkable man. Five stars.
What a treat this book is! Clearly the author enjoyed researching the life of Benjamin Franklin for he is so incredibly thorough about nearly every possible aspect of this biography. As a reader I got a remarkably clear picture of the evolution of Benjamin Franklin's character throughout his life. Drawing from Franklin autobiography, innumerable letters he wrote to friends and colleges, and the insights of Franklin's contemporaries, I could not help but be impressed by the depth of primary source documentation that was presented here. It must've taken years for the author to find all this information and then even longer to organize it all into this wonderful and throughly readable book.
Benjamin Franklin led an amazingly fascinating life. His mind never stops turning, his pen never stopped writing, and the world never stopped becoming better for it all. He was loved the world over, admired for his many scientific and diplomatic achievements, and successful in nearly everything he did. But I had no idea that he did so much! Presented here are stories ranging all the way back to the youth of this great man and all the way up to just before his death. And it seems like the man never spent any time just being lazy. He was always moving. He was always exploring, discovering, and accomplishing. In this book you see detailed Franklin's hard work ethic and the many accomplishments that that work ethic brought him along with great respect from nearly everyone around him. You see the enemies that Franklin's accomplishments generated, some being enemies out of mere jealousy and others out of political differences. And you see how Franklin dealt with those enemies with wisdom and wit. You see Franklin's love of the ladies how he would playfully pursue them. You see Franklin's reluctant entrance into politics and how greatly he would influence the politics of our young country once he finally entered the game. But even more interestingly than all this you see how each and every one of these attitudes of Franklin's changed throughout the course of his life. Every page is full of quotations and evidence from primary sources! It is like a treasure chest of historical voices right at your fingertips. And all the fun little stories that the author throws into his writing concerning different episodes in Franklin's life are precious. By the time you're done with this book you know Franklin. You know him very well.
All in all this is a great book, very readable, lots of fun, with not a single boring section anywhere. Order it and get ready for real treat.