The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
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The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  11,058 ratings  ·  222 reviews
In the first comprehensive biography of Benjamin Franklin in over sixty years, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands brings vividly to life one of the most delightful, bawdy, brilliant, original, and important figures in American history.

A groundbreaking scientist, leading businessman, philosopher, bestselling author, inventor, diplomat, politician, and wit, Benjamin Franklin w...more
Hardcover, 768 pages
Published September 19th 2000 by Doubleday (first published 2000)
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Ross
This biography of Franklin is billed as comprehensive and it certainly is that. It would seem to contain essentially every thing that is known about the great man's life. I would say it is a must read for anyone interested in American history. Even though it is a huge book.
By the title, Brands makes the case that it is Franklin who most deserves the credit for the steps that led to the creation of the American republic. Washington, of course, deserves the credit for winning the war, but who got...more
Mike
May 18, 2009 Mike rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
I haven't read any of the author's other works, so I can't comment on how his style and craft may be evolving, but this book is well-written, well-thought-out, and as far as I can discern, well-researched.

Like most people, I've known of Franklin all my life (well, less about 6 years). And, like most people, I also knew he flew a kite in an electrical storm (which seems rather foolhardy to down-right-dangerous, if you understand what the quantity of power in a typical lightning strike is), invent...more
Gerald
Earlier: I think this is the Vook edition. It has embedded video. I downloaded it as an app to my iPhone from the Apple iBookstore. I have a hunch this multimedia book experience is not as rich as it could be, but it's a start on a form that's in its infancy.

Update: Turns out I'm not a big fan of the Vook format, at least for recreational reading. I suppose I'm too retro, equate reading with "quiet time."

I like taking books, and ebooks, to public places. Unless I want to wear earbuds, I'm not co...more
bup
The best biography I've ever read. Franklin is so human I could walk into the next room and not be surprised to see him setting there.

The biographer also makes a very compelling argument that Ben Franklin was the most indispensable figure in the American Revolutionary adventure. Or at least tied with Washington.

Most historians agree that without George Washington, there's nobody else who could've stepped forward to successfully keep an army together, miraculously beat the most powerful country i...more
Ron
A monumental yet eminently readable biography of (arguably) the most impressive and important of the early figures in American history. Written in a very clear style, the book moves along, drawing the reader into wanting to know the next events in this very fascinating life. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMEND! From Amazon: He was the foremost American of his day, yet today he is little more than a mythic caricature in the public imagination. Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the pivotal figure in colonial and revol...more
Reagan Ramsey
I love Ben Franklin. I mean, I know he wasn't perfect, but he's so inspiring. I love how he constantly tries to be better and is so intentional about his life. His family life needed alot of work, and it's sad to me that his relationship with his son was so painful and distant at times.

The other thing that was interesting to me about this book was seeing the events of the American birth play out as they did. I think we credit our country to this philosophical and moral giants...when in reality(t...more
Cormacjosh
This is H.W. Brands’ popular biography of Dr. Franklin, which was published in September 2000. While not as good as actually reading Dr. Franklin’s writings, as can be found in the Library of America edition, or the Compleate Autobiography edited by Dr. Mark Skousen, I can indeed recommend it. Brands seems to be pretty diligent in not applying modern sensibilities to the 18th century, which I applaud heartily; that seems to be a consistent problem with modern day biographies of historical figure...more
Scott Martin
Probably the most detailed single volume of work on Ben Franklin that you could possibly imagine. Certainly learned more about him than I had ever known. This is a very detailed, well-researched work. It may seem cliche, but he led quite a full life, one that covered so much of a very, very significant period in American history. Of note, most would know some of his actions in the pre-Revolutionary War days (Poor Richard's Almanac, his work with electricity, etc), but most of the attention as of...more
Daniel Kukwa
"The First American" is a wake-up call — never again will I ignore this fascinating-yet-gentle giant of intellect and words. H.W. Brands crafts a sumptuous biography that does great justice to a great man…and it should be shared far and wide. Drag Ben Franklin out of the the realm of cliche and the fog of forgetfulness, and force him back into the spotlight he so richly deserves.
Kathryn
While I am still trying to finish this book, I absolutely love it. It is heady, intelligent, and full of detail that is hard to find in a lot of other autobiographies.

This is a book which requires concentrated time if you want to take in all of the information included in this book. Whenever I pick it up to read a chapter, I am completely engrossed and lose track of time.
Denise
This book was the main reason I choose to write my history thesis on Benjamin Franklin. There is so much more about this man that is fascinating but is not taught in history books.
Erin
Fascinating biography of a multitalented man, who was also human and had weaknesses. Brands doesn't shy away from exploring Ben's foibles, but he doesn't go anywhere near sensationalism.

Actually, my favorite part of the book was before the revolution when his attention was devoted more to science and inventions, and less to politics. Such a creative problem solver, and much more practical than you would expect from his later role in the birth of America.

I highly recommend it to anyone who wants...more
Aithen
Although it's surely impossible to fit all of Franklin into any volume, this is a wonderful biography of man who had hugely impactful life.
Robert Laird
Excellent biography... the first chapter is stellar... the rest merely (merely!) excellent. Highly recommended.
Lynda
Well written and well researched. I enjoyed it a great deal. Did a good job of covering most of Franklin's life.
Jennifer Nelson
Although parts of this book were highly entertaining, I had to really push myself to read through to the end. I think the main problem, for me, was slogging through the massive amount of details that the author felt should be included - it felt as though he didn't leave any stone unturned. Although some may find it compelling, I just couldn't really get interested, for example, in the finer details of Franklin's business transactions and dealings.

So aside from that main problem, it was very inte...more
Aaron Million
Superb biography of one of the greatest early Americans. Franklin lived many different lives within one: printer, businessman, philosopher, scientist, meteorologist, inventor, politician, mediator, minister, representative of the people. Brands does a great job bringing him to life, focusing on the varied aspects of Franklin's personality and how he effectively negotiated with people in various parts of his life over the years to get what he (or the fledgling U.S) needed.

Brands does not hesitat...more
William
'The First American' is an amazing book about the most amazing character ever to live in America. Benjamin Franklin is the hands-down leader in the shaping and development of our U.S. country and culture. He is still the most well known scientist of our time. He also contributed to our winning of the Revolutionary War and the development of our democratic process that we hold dear. Our country owes him gratitude for his creation of libraries, universities, and fire fighting. We are touched every...more
Chip
Overall offers very detailed insights into Franklin and his life. However, the author seems to have slipped into the 18th century when writing this, as the vocabulary and sentence structure is much too complex. While comprehensible, it makes for a difficult read, of an otherwise fascinating American.

Example: "The group also cultivated the literary arts. Common readings were assigned; these provided the grist for debate. By turns the members raised particular issues of morals, philosophy, and civ...more
Carl Nelson
Benjamin Franklin was an extraordinary man, marked by his genius and love of virtue. Many men of the Revolutionary War period were defined by their activities in the struggle for American independence--for Franklin, his role is but one more accomplishment in the lifetime of a vital man. His contributions to every field that he touched are immense: science, communication, politics, and diplomacy. More impressive still is Franklin's outlook of optimism and political philosophy of compromise while...more
Andy Gavin
While I'm waiting for the last bits of line editing on my almost-finished novel, The Darkening Dream, I've beenresearchingand outlining the next. Given that it's me, the new novel features both the historical and thefantastic. As to the historical: enter Ben Franklin. Who was one cool dude.

There's a reason why he's on the hundred dollar bill.

Now to reviewing this biography (I'll call it TFA). It's very well written, and easy enough to read. It's also LONG (800 dense pages). Now, Ben lived 84 yea...more
Mike Briggs

Benjamin Franklin was The First American as the title of the book by H.W. Brands suggests. On his road to becoming the first American, Brands argues that Franklin considered himself British and intended to settle in London and live out his life until a course of events set in place by the times altered his life path. The work covers Franklin’s life from birth and ends with his death the night of April 17, 1790. Brands exposition of Franklin removes him from the historical folk character every sc

...more
John
How good is this biography? This good: when Ben Franklin finally dies, as of course we knew he must, after 84 years and 700+ pages, I actually felt sad. Brands is that good at taking one of the most familiar, popular, and oft-portrayed/parodied/pastiched figures in all of American history and rendering him fresh and fully human. Obviously it helps that he's dealing with Franklin, one of the most accomplished and fascinating figures of his age. But Founding Father biographies can sometimes feel l...more
Brannon
This is a wonderful book. There are but a handful of people in the world that can word things like Prof. Brands. He truly knows how to unfold a story. This is a long book, but like Les Miserables, you read it deliberately for the elegance of the content.

And of course it's a story worth telling. I was intrigued to see and understand that Mr. Franklin has the one attribute of the truly great people in all history; continual progression. His conclusions upon the nature of God, after a lifetime of p...more
Michael
The First American taught me both about (1) Franklin's life/events of his time and (2) Franklin's way of thinking. H.W. Brands writes well enough about (1), but really shines in the sections of the book incorporating (2).

I'll call the first aspect the historical/narrative component of the book. Brands is concise when discussing non-Franklin events; the descriptions never feel like winding detours, which is normally something with which I take issue in historical biographies. The book expanded my...more
Bob Price
Ben Franklin is a larger than life human being. What this man was able to accomplish (creation of the post office, the electricity experiments, etc) is short of a miracle.

The First American is able to capture some of the character of this man and explain who he was and why he did what he did.

The most amazing revelation for me was his reluctant entrance as a rebel. Growing up near Philadelphia, Ben Franklin is near legendary. We were often amused by stories of how Ben Franklin, George Washington...more
Alex
It is hard to read this and not compare it to David McCullough's "John Adams." And "John Adams" is simply better than this book.

But that might not be fair because "John Adams" is gobsmackingly good. This is merely good. I give the author a lot of credit; Franklin lived 84 years, but his life seemed even longer than that. It covered 1706 to 1790. This country changed dramatically during those years (heck, there wasn't even a "country" for most of them) and Franklin was at the center of many of t...more
Brian
While knowing some of the broad outlines of Franklin’s life, I was interested in filling in the details of this varied and remarkable American. This book intelligently and engagingly covers the life and times of Ben Franklin as a civic initiator, printer, writer, politician and inventor. What I found particularly interesting were Franklin’s general pro British feelings and pro empire leanings up to somewhat close to the key events of the pre revolutionary era, and the fact that he lived abroad i...more
Helaine
I am always astounded by what we did not learn in school when it comes to the founding fathers. Benjamin Franklin was an amazing person with his fingers in everything from forming the first fire brigades in the colonies to membership in a number of European philosophical and scientific societies. His evolution from a man who once thought of making England his home (after some years there) to one avidly supporting independence from England for the colonies is something we don't hear about as we d...more
Katie
I enjoyed learning about Franklin, and this book kept my attention the whole way.
But I get annoyed when biographers try to psychoanalyze their subjects, and this book had too much of that. For example, as much as I was interested in reading about Deborah Franklin, I didn't like or trust the way Brands addressed her. He talked about how she *must* have felt, or what she *must* have been thinking, without backing it up with any sort of historical evidence. He did this to some extent with Franklin...more
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Henry William Brands was born in Portland, Oregon, where he lived until he went to California for college. He attended Stanford University and studied history and mathematics. After graduating he became a traveling salesman, with a territory that spanned the West from the Pacific to Colorado. His wanderlust diminished after several trips across the Great Basin, and he turned to sales of a differen...more
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“Ben Franklin advises his grandson not to let even the American Revolution interrupt his studies, urging of young adulthood, "This is the time of life in which you are to lay the foundations of your future improvement and of your importance among men. If this season is neglected, it will be like cutting off the spring from the year.” 2 likes
“The males (of the Hutchinson family that included both religious dissenter Anne and immensely wealthy and politically connected Thomas) were merchants who sought salvation through commerce.” 1 likes
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