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The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin Paperback – March 12, 2002
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“Like its subject, this biography is both solid and enchanting.” —The New Yorker
“[A] biography with a rich cast of secondary characters and a large and handsome stock of historical scenery. . . . Brands writes clearly and confidently about the full spectrum of the polymath’s interests. . . . This is a Franklin to savor.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Benjamin Franklin’s life is one every American should know well, and it has not been told better than by Mr. Brands.” —The Dallas Morning News
“A vivid portrait of the 18th-century milieu and of the 18th-century man. . . . [Brands is] a master storyteller.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“A thorough biography of Benjamin Franklin, America’s first Renaissance man. . . . In graceful, even witty prose. . . . Brands relates the entire, dense-packed life.” —The Washington Post
“A lively re-introduction to Franklin. . . . Rich in the descriptions of settings, personalities, and action. . . . [Brands] offers . . . a succession of amusing anecdotes and vivid tales.” —The New Republic
“Comprehensive, lively. . . . [Brands] is a skilled narrator who believes in making good history accessible to the non-specializing book lover, and the general reader can read this book with sustained enjoyment.” —The Boston Globe
From the Inside Flap
Wit, diplomat, scientist, philosopher, businessman, inventor, and bon vivant, Benjamin Franklin was in every respect America's first Renaissance man. From penniless runaway to highly successful printer, from ardently loyal subject of Britain to architect of an alliance with France that ensured America's independence, Franklin went from obscurity to become one of the world's most admired figures, whose circle included the likes of Voltaire, Hume, Burke, and Kant. Drawing on previously unpublished letters and a host of other sources, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands has written a thoroughly engaging biography of the eighteenth-century genius. A much needed reminder of Franklin's greatness and humanity, The First American" is a work of meticulous scholarship that provides a magnificent tour of a legendary historical figure, a vital era in American life, and the countless arenas in which the protean Franklin left his legacy.
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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.
Having just read Ron Chernow's "Washington," that book invariably became my frame of reference for "The First American." Ben and George's paths crossed only a handful of times, but they had great admiration for one another. They thus provide very different perspectives on the Revolution. Brands provides a strong and engaging narrative, but for every brilliant turn of phrase, there was a head-scratching awkward one. Here's a late example: "Franklin preferred philosophy, but diplomacy insisted." ??? My only other complaint is that Brands did not include any pictures (unlike Isacson's significantly shorter biography).
Overall, Brands does a wonderful job of showing how Franklin's long, fruitful and fascinating life can provide inspiration to one and all.
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.
Top international reviews
As someone pretty ignorant of the subject, I particularly enjoyed learning about Franklin's involvement in US Independence and as a result am prompted to read further on this period of US history.
This was one of the best biographies I have read and would recommend it to anyone interested in learning about the life and times of one of history's greatest characters. I will also be reading more from the author, H.W Brands.
For me Benjamin Franklin is one of the greatest figures in the history of the world. His scientific achievements and his close involvement in world-forming events make reading this book a truly wonderful experience. I feel that I have learned a great deal about the man and the period of history he influenced so much.
Benjamin Franklin gained the admiration of his peers and this book will ensure he gains the admiration of all those who read it.
A remarkable man.
Reading Benjamin Franklin’s Biography, “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by Brands, H.W.” (and by the way what a great reading, what a great story and what a great man) I came to realize that you cannot trust everything is told to you, everything you read or everything you see. You have to question it (the Why) and use your own judgement. To filter.
Mr. Franklin was the Post Master for the colony (America) he had a printer shop (this is 18th Century), actually he had equity in several printer shops, he had royalties fees from all printings sold in all printer shops he was shareholder in, he sold raw materials to them and he was the main content producer. His goal? To sell (One example is his “Poor Richard’s Almanack” that was sold by the thousands between 1732 and 1758) and make money so he could build passive income enough which in turn would allow him to dedicate his time to his passions, including Science. He retired at the age of 42 and for another 40 years he managed to influence the course of American History. He was a (is) an inspiration, a producer of Good Content and developed an ingenious Business Model to make money out of it.
Today you have billions of currency being made out of what is now called the self-help industry, books, audio-book, workshops, theories, techniques, etc. being sold worldwide. A lot of it is Bad Content. Do the authors really want to help you? Are they inspirational? or they just want to help themselves and make money? Big difference.
I like Business. So for self-help with “Good Content”, with “Good Business Model” and that were highly influenced by Benjamin Franklin whom I admire, I recommend you:
- “Dale Carnegie: How to Win Friends and Influence People” (1936)
- “Stephen Covey: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” (1989)
And as for self-help advise follow only if given 1. by people that love you 2. by people that are smart and 3. by people that don’t have a personal interest.