Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: an American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
“Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winked at us” (p 2). What a great way to start a biography about a man whose life is such common knowledge you don’t feel like you could read yet another one and get anything new out of it. It is Isaacson’s writing style that sets him apart from all the other biographies. From the very beginning, Isaacson draws you into Franklin’s world with such ease and humor. His style of writing is charming and winsome in a myriad of ways, but I liked that he used such words as “sassy” and “spunky” to describe people. A lot of Isaacson’s information is drawn from Franklin’s own words, either from his autobiography (even correcting Mr. Franklin from time to time) or from Franklin’s personal letters. I particularly enjoyed Franklin’s tongue in cheek research about the smell of farts correlating to the type of food one eats. But, Isaacson’s playful account doesn’t mean he refrains from personal critical opinion about our founding father’s actions, especially concerning Franklin’s treatment of his immediate family. He defends Franklin as much as he can concerning the relationships Franklin has with women other than his wife, claiming they were mostly nonsexual. However, Isaacson has sympathy for Franklin’s family who spend nearly two decades without him. In addition to Franklin’s personal life, Isaacson also is extremely thorough in detailing Franklin’s civic contributions, political dealings and public life.
As an aside, Benjamin Franklin has always been one of my favorite historical figures. Why? Because in his early years he was a vegetarian in order to save money for books. Sounds like something I would do. He was also thought to be an insomniac.
Reason read: Benjamin Franklin was born in the month of January. Plain and simple.
Book trivia: Benjamin Franklin: an American Life includes a smattering of illustrations, including an unfinished painting by Benjamin West.
Author fact: Isaacson is also the co-author of The Wise Men. Another book on my list I can’t wait to read.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Founding Fathers” (p 91). Duh.
Franklin, Benjamin. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Minola: Dover Publications, Inc., 1996.
Originally written as a letter to his illegitimate son, Benjamin Franklin sets out to tell the story of his life’s work. It briefly covers his childhood but focuses more on his years of employment, first as a printer’s apprentice, then as a prominent political leader among many, many other things. By the end of it you will be asking what didn’t this guy do? However, it ends (abruptly) before his involvement in the Revolution or his efforts to free slaves, two aspects of his life I find most interesting. Peppered throughout the autobiography is Benjamin Franklin’s adamant call to humility, modesty, and virtue which is humorously contradictory for a man with such a long list of obvious accomplishments.
Reading Benjamin Franklin’s list of accomplishments and life interests has caused me to dub him “the most interesting man in the world” after the guy in the Dos Equis commercial.
Book Trivia: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin has been translated into hundreds of languages.
Author Fact: Benjamin Franklin loved the ocean. Really cool.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Founding Fathers” (p 91). Of course.
Wood, Gordon S. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. New York: Penguin, 2004.
Benjamin Franklin celebrates a birthday in January (on the 17th day in the year 1706 to be precise; in other words, today); hence my reading of his biography (one of many on my list).
Let me say first and foremost that Mr. Franklin is a personal hero of mine for advocating for libraries so much! If it were not for him who knows where my profession would be. I do not, however, approve of his treatment of his wife Deborah. Can you imagine being married to someone who insisted on living in a different country (and only returns home after your death)? Even Franklin’s friends made no mention of Deborah’s passing after he returned to America.
Wood’s biography deals mostly with Franklin’s political aspirations and most pointedly, his “switch” from supporting Britain to supporting America (hence “americanization” in the title). Of course, Franklin’s involvement in postal services and electricity were also touched upon, but only because they are important elements to Franklin’s history.
My favorite quotes:
“Things that struck him as new and odd were always worth thinking about, for experiencing them might advance the boundaries of knowledge” (p 62).
“…but Franklin thought the electrical charge necessary to kill large animals might end up killing the cook” (p 64).
“The degree of Franklin’s Revolutionary fervor and his loathing of the king surprised even John Adams, who was no slouch himself when it came to hating (p 154).
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust and the chapter called “Founding Fathers” (p 91).