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The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

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PULITZER PRIZE FINALIST - Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the pivotal figure in colonial and revolutionary America, comes vividly to life in this "thorough biography of ... America's first Renaissance man"... This description may be from another edition of this product.

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Benjamin Franklin: A Wonderful Life

It's curious how many biographies about prime ministers, generals, past presidents, and personalities from the Revolutionary War era have been published in recent years. Perhaps the phenomenon is not so strange in light of H.W. Brands' volume about Benjamin Franklin, a man who, even in life, appeared to be part mortal and part god. At a time when our culture seems to yearn for stories about persons of character and achievement, of people who were not merely good but who were also good for something, this book comes none too soon. Inventor, printer, writer, philosopher, diplomat, representative, treaty-maker, land speculator, abolitionist, patron of education, arts and sciences, to name a handful of things, it's fair to say Franklin seems to have "done it all," and what a life! His contributions to science, the infant United States and in other areas cannot be emphasized too heavily. To use a Franklinism, he was indeed a jack-of-all-trades, and master of many. In some respects the man almost seemed too big for his life, but the ever-evolving Franklin changed things when he couldn't change himself, and largely shaped his own world --and his legacy. It's a big legacy, a mighty story, and Brands does an honest and capable job sifting through the lore and legend surrounding Benjamin Franklin the man, although even after finishing the book, Franklin's myth still looms large. Perhaps it is only the titanic shadow he casts across recent history? Whatever it is, Brands presents the reader with a fully human Franklin who was capable of some seemingly superhuman undertakings, a mortal man with flaws and failings, subject to flukes of fate, as well as flights of the highest intellectual and moral insight and courage when it was most needed. Frankly it is astonishing that one man could have lived such a life in times that were as fascinating and exciting as they were dangerous and uncertain. Brands breathes life into the many worlds his subject inhabited, from Philadelphia to France, colonial Boston to Great Britain, and the broad strokes and fine points are all alive and vibrant. This biography is luxurious by turns and, in only a few spots, prosaic.Brands may not quite possess the gift of flowing prose that other biographers like McCullough or Ellis have, but his rendering is decidedly readable and thoroughly enjoyable. In fact the only places where I was "rubbed" were instances when Brands presented Franklin in a situation or against a backdrop without saying more about the setting. E.g., one may well remember the particulars of Queen Anne's War and the French and Indian War from school days gone by. But for one who does not, a little more background would be helpful, though I concede it would be difficult to insert even more detail into such an already copiously detailed, opulent book. It is also evident that Brands admires Franklin. That's not so hard to understand, especially when reading his treatment of Franklin, and perhaps his enthusiasm is better

Outstanding Biography

When I first saw this book available for sale, I could not wait to read it. Other founding fathers, such as Washington, Adams and Jefferson have had numerous biographies devoted to them and their role in the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin was long overdue for a new biography and H.W. Brands has supplied an excellent chapter on one of the most illustrious founding fathers.The book demonstrates the rise of Franklin from a younger son in a large family in Boston to a well known and respected printer in Philadelphia. Based on extreme hard work, frugality and ghe ability to impress power men, Franklin quickly becomes a force in the city. The most interesting think about this point in his life is the agility of his mind. Never content to simply wonder why, Franklin educates himself in such diverse areas as philosophy, science, mechnical engineering, etc. The classic American dream of rags to riches is truly demonstrate via the life of Franklin.Later in his life, Franklin spent many years in England as the colonial agent for Pennsylvania. His fame as an amateur scientist through his experiments with electricity meant he was already well known in England. Franklin himself loved England during this time in his life and the author points out that it took quite a bit of abuse from the English politicians to turn him away from pursuing reconciliation with the Mother Country.Once he knew that America must achieve independence and at the age of 70 (!), Franklin returned to Philadelphia and began the exciting process of fighting for independence and setting up a new country. Soon after, he went to France to persuade the French government to help the fledgling country. Later still, he worked on the development of the U.S. Constitution. In the history of man, it is difficult to find a man whose life encompasses such a wide range of achievement.The author does a fine job of drawing upon Franklin's own words to illustrate his life. The writing flows smoothly and covers most areas of his life in sufficient detail. Only one small complaint- I wish more would have been discussed regarding his private life, especially his marrige.

A work worthy of its subject

The First American is an exceptionally entertaining, insightful and informative work of historical biography. I'm not a speedy reader, but I consumed this book in a few weeks of train commutes to and from work (I have no idea what's been going on in the world since late September) and am now bereft that it is finished. I was struck by how much Franklin's legacy suffers from the iconography (another reviewer correctly called it historical caricature). Franklin the Myth, as it turns out, is far less than Franklin the Man. The Doctor is more than an American giant -- he is in the first tier in the pantheon of modern civilization's geniuses; right up there among Leonardo and Shakespeare and Gutenberg.A minor quibble: I was disappointed not to learn how Franklin's son William (a notorious Tory during the War of Independence)and his grandsons Temple Franklin and Benny Bache fared in their lives, and how subsequent generations of Franklin progeny coped with the giant's legacy. I know the book was the Life and Times (I most appreciated that Brands took "The Times" part of the equation as seriously as "The Life") but somehow I think the Doctor would have been tickled if the reach of his Life and Times had been extended to include the following generations.Again, a masterwork, for which I am grateful and privileged to have enjoyed as well as I did.

A thorough and accessible account of a brilliant man

Don't be intimidated by the length (700 pages without notes) of this fine book. It's an extremely well-written and engaging account of a life well lived. The author makes great use of Franklin's immense body of writing as well as his innate humor. The result is a wonderfully readable biography that brings forth both the man and his accomplishments.As a Founding Father, Franklin is naturally accorded respect, gratitude, and even awe by most Americans. His famous experiments with electricity and his numerous inventions from bifocals to the armonica are cause for amazement no matter what your nationality. His civic contributions include founding both the first lending library and the first fire station in America. His writings are numerous and visionary. One might expect a man of such accomplishments to be vain, driven, or aloof. But, as this book will make clear, Ben Franklin was first and foremost a delightful and humorous man. You'll enjoy getting to know him better.If you've an interest in historical biography or the history of the American Revolution, you simply must read this book. Even if you don't usually read history, there's no better re-introduction to this marvelous figure from your school book days.

Exquisite biography, superb history

With this magnificent book, author H. W. Brands has rescued ol' Ben Franklin from the dustbin of historical caricature. The statesman, printer, scientist, inventor, author, diplomat, raconteur, and ladies' man emerges in these pages as living flesh and blood. No more are we left with Franklin, the relentlessly glib and clever bon vivant (though he was certainly that -- among other things). In H. W. Brands's skilled hands you get a real sense of his motivation as a person, his passions, his jealousies. Consider the opening scene, in the Prologue. Here Brands shows us Franklin, bracing himself for cross-examination in the British court, the Privy Council, in connection with the revolutionary goings-on in Massachusetts. The dramatic scene Brands sets up isn't just for entertainment, however. As he presents Franklin enduring eviscerating ridicule at the hands of the British royal solicitor, Wedderburn, Brands makes the case that Franklin finally discovered his American-ness right then and there, and history was never the same as a result. If that's how the Brits want to treat the generous and fair Benjamin Franklin, Franklin must have thought, let them live with the consequences. From this gripping beginning, with its strong sense of motivation and narrative momentum, Brands takes us on a tour of early colonial New England, to Franklin's early life, his family life, and his role in establishing the Republic and steering its fate through the difficult shoals of international diplomacy.It would not be surprising if this book gets its due when the Pulitzer Prizes are nominated and voted upon. Kudos to Professor Brands. Few academics are such natural-born storytellers.
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