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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

de Walter Isaacson

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4,259642,004 (3.98)90
In this authoritative and engrossing full-scale biography, Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Einstein and Steve Jobs, shows how the most fascinating of America's founders helped define our national character. Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us, the one who seems made of flesh rather than marble. In a sweeping narrative that follows Franklin's life from Boston to Philadelphia to London and Paris and back, Walter Isaacson chronicles the adventures of the runaway apprentice who became, over the course of his eighty-four-year life, America's best writer, inventor, media baron, scientist, diplomat, and business strategist, as well as one of its most practical and ingenious political leaders. He explores the wit behind Poor Richard's Almanac and the wisdom behind the Declaration of Independence, the new nation's alliance with France, the treaty that ended the Revolution, and the compromises that created a near-perfect Constitution. In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin's amazing life, showing how he helped to forge the American national identity and why he has a particular resonance in the twenty-first century.… (més)
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This is a biography which takes us through the events of a long and glorious life and emphasizes the interpersonal and tries to fathom the whys. Is that the measure of a man? Especially an exceptional man. After a while it was just more of the same, even if there were turns in the course. The really good part is the last twenty pages, after Franklin's death where Isaacson tries to reconcile the different ways that historians and others have viewed the same man we just spent almost 500 pages learning about. That's the fascinating part of this book. I almost wish this part was at the very start of the book rather than the end. Then we could have been unraveling a mystery rather than continually jumping to the next phase of a varied career. I was amazed to learn in last fifty pages that Franklin had one of, if not the, largest private libraries in the country, close to 5000 books. Yes it was not an event that created it, but it was a man like no other. By the end I wished there was more attention to the scientific achievements. Yes they were cited but if Franklin was like most inventors there must have been many blind alleys before the ah ha moment. I would have liked to know more about them. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Nov 29, 2020 |
Another view reminding us that all people are human with both strengths and weaknesses. I find it exceedingly interesting that some people succeed regardless of their faults, and others of us let our faults dominate. ([b:Now, Discover Your Strengths|56452|Now, Discover Your Strengths|Marcus Buckingham|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1347484398s/56452.jpg|1045276])

Here are a few things that caught my attention as I read this book.

"Franklin later concluded that the loss of money he was owed was balanced by the loss of the burden of having Ralph as a friend. A pattern was emerging. ... Franklin easily made casual friends, intellectual companions, useful patrons, flirty admirers, and circles of genial acquaintances, but he was less good at nurturing lasting bonds that involved deep personal commitments or emotional relationships, even within his own family. (Page 44)

"When an Indian child has been brought among us,taught our language and habituated to our customers, yet if he goes to see his relations and make one Indian ramble with them , there is no persuading him ever to return." (Page 153)

One Parisian, who added the perfect French complement about his love of silence: "He knew how to be impolite without being rude." (Page 328)

"Franklin had won, … The greatest diplomatic victory the United States has ever achieved."… [That] partially points out the paucity of American successes over the years at bargaining tables," (Page 349)

He was a sociable man who liked clubs that offered enlightening conversations and activities, but the friendships he formed with his fellow men were more affable than intimate. He had a genial affection for his wife, but not enough love to prevent him from spending 15 of the last 17 years of their marriage an ocean away… With his many women admirers, he preferred flirting rather than making serious commitments, and he retreated into playful detachment at any sign of danger. (Page 487)

I found it interesting that his years in England was portrayed as politically unsuccessful, but in France he was eminently successful at winning the hearts of the country and negotiating agreements and treaties both with France and with England.

Chapter 18 describes shifting opinions of America regarding Franklin over the decades. Some decades he is in favor and some decades he is out of favor. This chapter reminds me that an assessment of a historical character is continually shifting. The current values of the society determine who they hold in esteem and who they scorn. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
A well-written and interesting biography of a fascinating man. It's been fun to read this on the heels of the John & Abigail Adams letters - from their perspectives you can get two different sides of many events. ( )
  szbuhayar | May 24, 2020 |
Can't wait to read it again. Isaacson made it clear that this is my spirit founding father. Don't think you have a personality? Make one from scratch, and make it whatever you want. So much to look up to, even the wry lens through which the man viewed the world. Most importantly for the kinds of fun romps through a life, it's easy to read. My guess is, the more I read about Franklin, I'll think of this as an intro bio, but what a damn fun intro! ( )
  pmcinern | May 10, 2020 |
The reader really gets to know Benjamin Franklin in this book biography. It is a little weaker on context and explaining the events of Franklin's time. Isaacson portrays Franklin as the prototype middle class striver. He is pragmatic and guided by reason, civic-minded, sociable, and charming. Franklin mixed bis public and private interests and could be downright petty at times. As amiable as he was in accumulating acquaintances, he had few close friends and was remarkably cold and distant to members of his family. He was a brilliant negotiator. While none of Franklin's suggestions were incorporated into the constitution his true value at the convention was as the voice of compromise who disarmed tense situations with humor. The Conclusion is an excellent summary and discussion of Franklin's standing since his death in 1790. We could certainly use someone like him in our own troubled times. ( )
  gregdehler | May 9, 2020 |
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His arrival in Philadelphia is one of the most famous scenes in autobiographical literature: The bedraggled 17-year-old runaway, cheeky yet with a pretense of humility, straggling off the boat and buying three puffy rolls as he wanders up Market Street.
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In this authoritative and engrossing full-scale biography, Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of Einstein and Steve Jobs, shows how the most fascinating of America's founders helped define our national character. Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us, the one who seems made of flesh rather than marble. In a sweeping narrative that follows Franklin's life from Boston to Philadelphia to London and Paris and back, Walter Isaacson chronicles the adventures of the runaway apprentice who became, over the course of his eighty-four-year life, America's best writer, inventor, media baron, scientist, diplomat, and business strategist, as well as one of its most practical and ingenious political leaders. He explores the wit behind Poor Richard's Almanac and the wisdom behind the Declaration of Independence, the new nation's alliance with France, the treaty that ended the Revolution, and the compromises that created a near-perfect Constitution. In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin's amazing life, showing how he helped to forge the American national identity and why he has a particular resonance in the twenty-first century.

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