Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Book Review: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003) by Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003)
Walter Isaacson

After reading Walter Isaacson's outstanding biography of Albert Einstein, I simply had to try his earlier book on the life of Benjamin Franklin. Both Einstein and Franklin are complicated men of near-mythic stature whom I would think difficult subjects for a biographer. Once again, Isaacson has risen to the challenge.

Franklin, of course, told his own story in the famous Autobiography, but the persona he created there is far from the whole truth. This book does an excellent job of placing the events of Franklin's Autobiography in the broader context of his life. It also adds much information from other sources, including his published work, his letters, his personal papers, and the correspondence and diaries of those who knew him. The book is a little slow in parts, but it is fairly comprehensive and generally an even-handed and insightful assessment of Franklin, including his sorry lack of intimacy with his family.

Franklin's lasting achievements--commercial, literary, practical, scientific, philosphical, philanthropic, diplomatic, and political-- were attained in so many varied areas of endeavor that they remain hugely impressive more than 220 years after his death. He did much to shape the character of a new nation. The United States is indeed extremely fortunate to have had among her legendary Founding Fathers the remarkably personable and adept elder statesman Benjamin Franklin.


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