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Benjamin Franklin

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  55,023 Ratings  ·  1,169 Reviews
Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us -- an ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings.
In bestselling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin turns to us from history's stage with eyes that twinkle from behind his new-fangled spectacle
Published March 8th 2011 by Simon & Schuster Audio (first published 2003)
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William Schram January 17, 1706 according to the Georgian Calendar. According to the book, Britain and her colonies used the Julian Calendar until 1752 so his birth…moreJanuary 17, 1706 according to the Georgian Calendar. According to the book, Britain and her colonies used the Julian Calendar until 1752 so his birth was listed as Sunday, January 6, 1705. However the Julian Calendar was off by eleven days and considered March 25 to be the first day of the year. Once they corrected for this his birthday was listed to be what it is currently.(less)
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If Alexander Hamilton is one of the most underappreciated of the Founders then Benjamin Franklin is one of the most misunderstood. Isaacson ends his book with a concluding chapter that details this misundestanding. Throughout history each generation has taken a new look at Benjamin Franklin. As the author points out, Thoreau mocked him, Carnegie adored him and D.H. Lawrence despised him. So who was right, and why?

Isaacson, while pointing out his faults and follies, does not hide his own admirat
Jason Koivu
Jul 11, 2013 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent start-to-finish biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life begins by touching on his childhood as best as it can considering the lack of material to work with. After that, Isaacson takes the reader through a more detailed account of Franklin's early entrepreneurial life, through his many inventions, and into his later statesmen days. I was struck by the author's well-balanced hand for both time, achievements, personal and professional details, and philosophical and political ide ...more
Jul 22, 2013 Chrissie rated it really liked it
Recommended to Chrissie by: Laura
ETA: I decided to change this to four stars since I enjoyed the author's Einstein even more, and I gave that four.


Why do YOU want to pick up a book about Benjamin Franklin? If you want his biographical details you need not even read a book, just check out Wikipedia. I wanted more. I wanted to understand his soul. I wanted to get under his skin. I wanted all the historical details in Wikipedia and more. I got what I wanted. Benjamin was an amazing person; people have only a
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Dec 15, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: American History Buffs
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Ultimate Reading List - Biography
This was a pleasure and just the kind of biography I find trustworthy. The kind that acknowledges other views and controversies and with extensive notes and sources in the back. More than that, it's the rare biography that can inspire smiles and even giggles--I'd mark this up to five stars if I could credit Isaacson for that--but the source of the humor is the frequent quotes from Benjamin Franklin himself. Isaacson said in his introduction that "Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who wink ...more
Jan 08, 2012 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Isaacson did a fair and balanced job, describing the man without whitewashing over his flaws. By the end, I felt like Franklin was mine, like he somehow belonged to me. I knew he would be an interesting person, but I had no idea how much this man did with his life. Nor did I understand just how involved he was before there was any US at all. We could still be a British colony without him - or even a French one! Something else I never learned in school, France's involvement.

Aug 13, 2008 Margaretann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Went to the King Tut exhibit in 2007 and was equally impressed by the Ben Franklin museum - where the exhibit was shown in PA. Loved this book; learned so much - maybe I'm a nerd but it was a page turner that I looked forward to each day!
Dec 17, 2012 T-bone rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The only time this book caught my attention was when I fell asleep reading it in bed and dropped it on my face. I stopped reading before I hurt myself further. This fascinating insight on page 82 was the last straw, "For the last 17 years of Deborah's life, Franklin would be away, including when she died. Nevertheless, their mutual affection, respect, and loyalty - and their sense of partnership - would endure."
Aug 30, 2015 Matt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. The book offers not only a great examination of the man, but also a wonderful set of vignettes related to all the activities Franklin undertook in his life. This most eclectic of men, the fifth generation of the youngest son of the youngest son, dazzled many he met and Isaacson's presentation surely will pull in many readers as well. In Isaac ...more
Jul 07, 2008 Suzanne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a throroughly entertaining, well-researched, well-written biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson. It is lengthy (over 600 pages) and one feels obligated to read the footnotes because they further the work. The first third of the book moved quickly (childhood, moving to Philadelphia, beginning life as a printer, Poor Richard's Almanac). The middle third bogs down (life in England and France, the beginning of the Revolution) and the final third picks up (back in France, negotiat ...more
Nate Cooley
Probably the best biographical source on Benjamin Franklin is straight fron the horses mouth . . . his Autobiography. However, Isaacson's book is definitely an engaging read and fairly exhaustive.

My initial impression is that the author is careful in not falling into the a trap that so many biographers often do, in that they deify their protagonist. Isaacson takes an objective approach to Franklin and enumerates his many flaws (or at least what most would perceive as flaws when attributed to on
Jan 26, 2008 Dan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy providing background in my reviews of how I’ve acquired or read a book, because I believe it helps to paint a picture of my tastes, desires, and it might even give you more information about me. In other words, maybe the books I read act as my own autobiography. I bought this highly anticipated book only a short time after getting a new job as a store manager with FranklinCovey. Having made good friends with the store manager of the Waldenbooks store down the hall from my old store, I sp ...more
Jul 12, 2012 Jerome rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Biographies generally bore me, and this was no exception.

So pedestrian, so conventional, so obviously a poor rehashing of much better Franklin biographies that preceded this one. One wonders why Isaacson even bothered to write the book. Money, perhaps? Whatever his motivation, the result is underwhelming.

One of the difficulties with biography is that you already know most of the plot, and you probably know how it ends too. To create a sense of suspense and excitement, you need to need to do two
May 02, 2012 Joe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Isaacson is getting a lot of attention and reading right now for his Steve Jobs biography and there is some symmetry in his biography of Franklin, surely the Steve Jobs of his day, (a comparison favorable to Jobs, for sure.)

Isaacson does a great job in placing Franklin in his startling historical context. Ben Franklin is old! He is so old when he was born we even reckoned time by a different calendar - the Julian instead of the Gregorian. He was a contemporary of such old-timey Puritan giants as
Mar 27, 2008 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Americans, scientists, business people, history buffs
Shelves: biography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Pete daPixie
May 28, 2012 Pete daPixie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-u-s, biogs
Comprehensively researched and well balanced biography, in very similar territory as McCullough's highly recommended treatise on John Adams. Isaacson's 'Benjamin Franklin-An American Life', published 2003, captures the extraordinary and many faceted eighty four year life of this founding father. A caricature that would be instantly recognisable in The Simpsons, this biography paints a vivid portrait of the man, his times, family, morals, scientific enquiry and political journey.
I have long wishe
Patrick Johnston
Mar 31, 2016 Patrick Johnston rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a character this guy was. I think most Americans see Franklin primarily as a Founding Father and statesman, and, oh yeah, he did some fun science experiments on the side. Quiet the opposite, though. But in reality, his printing career and scientific quests were as much a part of his story as any.

For starters, he was a true business man. He started as a printing apprentice, bought the shop he worked in, and turned it into a successful, multi-franchise operation throughout the colonies. His t
Oct 29, 2015 Martin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
No complaints about this book - except: see 'Addendum' below.

Extremely readable - in fact I know I'll re-read it at some point. The author keeps things moving along. At less than 500 pages, this has got to be the best single-volume biography of Benjamin Franklin. (That sounded cool, but take it with a grain of salt, because I'll probably not read another Benjamin Franklin biography, single-volume or otherwise!)

Read it, and learn a thing or two about a thing or two. (That sounded cool, too!)

- -
Brad Feld
Jan 11, 2015 Brad Feld rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
Ben Franklin is one of my heroes, along with Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and a few others. As I start my march through reading books about American presidents, I figured I’d start with a famous American who was never a president but was deeply involved in creating the situation where there could be American presidents.
I’m a big fan of Walter Isaacson and his biographies (I’ve read many of them.) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life didn’t disappoint. Isaacson is great at making a biography
Chad Warner
Jun 21, 2012 Chad Warner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Benjamin Franklin or the founding of America
Shelves: non-fiction
This thoroughly researched biography takes a close look at Benjamin Franklin’s life, particularly exploring his personality and beliefs. It starts with his English ancestors, follows his parents’ emigration to America, then chronicles his life until his death. I enjoyed reading the stories behind his many maxims. The book provides insight into colonial life before, during, and after the American Revolution. It highlights Franklin’s achievements and lasting influence on America.

I had considered m
Aug 16, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: American history lovers
While this biography isn't a quick, light read, it is as interesting and complex as the man himself must have been. Isaacson goes far beyond the cartoonish image that many of us have of an old guy flying a kite in a thunderstorm, and uncovers the real person, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Franklin had tremendous influence in the way the United States was formed, and the book covers the politics, Franklin's friends and enemies, and the negotiation and compromises that were necessary to accompli
Jeremy Perron
Jan 18, 2012 Jeremy Perron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To say that Benjamin Franklin led an interesting life would be the understatement of the century. Dr. Franklin was the first American to be world famous. He was an American Revolutionary, a theorist on government, a scientist in nearly all fields, and a printer being his first profession. In the end, one can say that there is nothing that the man did not do in his lifetime. Walter Isaacson brings this extraordinary American to life, allowing the reader to explore the world that was with this inc ...more
This book gave me a much broader perspective on Benjamin Franklin. I had read his autobiography in junior high and loved it. I determined that he was the genre of person I would have enjoyed as a friend. The man thinks like me in many respects. I adopted some of his ideas because they fit me.

While I admired him, this book painted a more thorough picture of who he was, flaws and all. Now that I am an adult, it seemed appropriate to see the fuller picture of this character I thought so highly of.
Aug 01, 2008 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ben Franklin is one of the most misunderstood of the Founding Fathers, no doubt because his personality could often be so hard to pin down (Franklin often employed satire and misdirection in his arguments and created fictional characters to voice his opinions). Our image of him now is something like a wizened old favorite uncle, always ready with a wink and nudge and a humorous aphorism.

Franklin's place in history has been much more contentious, however. His revolutionary fervor was questioned b
Oct 17, 2013 Lemar rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Walter Isaacson has once again written a biography that tells the reader not simply what person X did and when they did it but why this person is important and worth the time taken to try and understand him or her better. He takes the ubiquitous image of Benjamin Franklin and puts him into focus, not easy after 300 years. I came away feeling that I finally had an idea of what this guy was like and agreeing that he was an exceptional person who effected a pivotal role in the creation of the Unite ...more
Carl R.
May 06, 2012 Carl R. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Walter Isaacson’s 2003 Ben Franklin An American Life makes a wonderful complement to the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning Benjamin Franklin by Carl Van Doren. Van Doren’s book is dense and exhaustive and admiring of both the man and his work. Isaacson is thorough as well, but more readable, and more critical, especially of Franklin’s personal life. It’s been several years since I read the Van Doren book, and I don’t plan to go back for a point-by-point analysis, but if you want to read just one, I’d ...more
Armine Mamikonian
"В Америке "люди спрашивают не кто он, а что он умеет делать" или же "Америка - убежище для тех, кто любит свободу" …Такими очень меткими фразами и своим внешим видом (сельского мудреца :)) ) Бенджамин Франклин в конце 18 века в Париже шаг за шагом создавал образ АМЕРИКИ - здорового и просвещенного государства, где во главе угла стоят труд и усердие человека, а не его прирожденный титул. Он это сделал настолько искусно, что со временем образ почти не изменился.
Книга очень детально и основательно
Keenan Johnston
Aug 14, 2015 Keenan Johnston rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love how much effort Isaacson puts into researching his subjects, relying only on his own research and conclusions. I was surprised to hear that he does not have a team to assist him during his research, which in some cases lasts multiple decades before he is ready to begin writing. So why did he pick Benjamin Franklin? Isaacson stated, “One of the things I love about Benjamin Franklin is that he is a spunky, self-taught guy.” Most people think of Franklin as the person who invented electricit ...more
Greg Strandberg
This was an enjoyable read, one I completed in 2008, a few years before this author's Steve Jobs book came out (it's the same guy, right?)

Anyways, you'll get good information on this man's life. I found it well-written, but not that spicy or interesting.

I suspect reading this man's autobiography would be a better option.
Jan 28, 2009 Benny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
One of my heroes has always been Ben Franklin. Issacson's treatment of him here is an honest account of his many great triumphs and successes, while not shying away from his many faults and foibles. Frankiln was a deep and complex character and this book does a good job of exploring the many facets of that character.
Ted Haussman
Dec 24, 2014 Ted Haussman rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

When you read the opening comments from a veritable "Who's Who?" of modern-day scholars of the Revolutionary period, you know you are embarking on a gem of a narrative and it was. Isaacson does a phenomenal job of synthesizing and revealing the vast complexities of Franklin's character and even the ensuing criticism of his acts and actions as the Enlighenment age morphed into the Romantic one up to the present day. The account is balanced, not only explaining the many lasting achievements that F
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Madison Mega-Mara...: Benjamin Franklin - Walter Isaacson 1 1 Jul 29, 2013 01:26PM  
  • The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
  • His Excellency: George Washington
  • Alexander Hamilton
  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
  • The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Grant
  • Mornings on Horseback
  • Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations
  • American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House
  • Adams Vs. Jefferson: The Tumultuous Election of 1800
  • John Jay: Founding Father
  • Henry Clay: The Essential American
  • A. Lincoln
  • The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800
  • Madison and Jefferson
  • Thomas Jefferson: A Life
Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of "Time" magazine. He is the author of "Steve Jobs"; "Einstein: His Life and Universe"; "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life"; and "Kissinger: A Biography," and the coauthor of "The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made." He lives in Washington, DC.
More about Walter Isaacson...

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“Knowledge, he realized, “was obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.” 5 likes
“When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him.” 2 likes
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