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Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

3.6  ·  Rating Details ·  3,127 Ratings  ·  606 Reviews
From one of our most accomplished and widely admired historians-a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin's youngest sister, whose obscurity and poverty were matched only by her brother's fame and wealth but who, like him, was a passionate reader, a gifted writer, and an astonishingly shrewd political commentator.

It is a life that has never been examined before: that of t
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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This is an interesting biography of Jane Franklin Mecom, who was Benjamin Franklin's sister. Everyone knows Mr. Benjamin as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, but his sister Jane was almost lost to history.

Benny and Jenny, as they were nicknamed as children, were kindred spirits and exchanged many frank and personal letters during their lifetime. "The two eyes of man do not more resemble, nor are capable of being upon better terms with each other, than my sister and myself," Benj
Nov 08, 2013 Dana rated it did not like it
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book from Goodreads' giveaway program and was very excited! I'm so sad to write a review that is anything but flattering, but this is my honest opinion: Considering the title of the book, "The Book of Ages, The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin", I naively thought that the book would actually focus on Ms. Franklin. But because there was so little known about Jane, the majority of the book discussed Benjamin Franklin, and the general time in which this brother and sister lived. I've r ...more
Aug 08, 2013 Jaylia3 rated it it was amazing
Looking beyond great men and big events makes history leap to life--the captivating story of Ben Franklin’s sister Jane

I first learned about Jane “Jenny” Franklin in an earlier book by Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes, and though there isn’t more than a few pages on her I was so moved and taken by her story that it’s my strongest memory of that book and I was left wanting to know more. Jill Lepore’s mother must have felt the same way because, as I read in Lepore’s recent New Yorker article,
Diane S ☔
Dec 21, 2013 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
In a way I received more than I wanted from this book and less than I expected. So little is known about Ben Franklin's sister that the author had to use quite a bit of filler and off topic information. The whole history in England, of the beginnings of the family and pf course how the family spread, how Franklin made so much of his self coming from so little. Much of this information was fascinating but at the same time not what I expected from this book.

Did expect more information on Jane and
Jan 02, 2014 Trish rated it it was amazing
It is difficult to convey the pleasure and excitement with which I read this history of Jane Franklin Mecom. Lepore carefully reconstructs the period in which the Franklins lived and pieces together the life of Franklin’s sister from fragments—using a few of the many letters she wrote to her famous brother, Benjamin Franklin. She forces one realize again what historical research requires, and how much we miss. But one comes away from Jane’s Book of Ages with wonder and awe at how much Lepore was ...more
Nov 26, 2013 Cheryl rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Biography, Gender studies and American history fanatics
She was born in 1712 but none of her letters before 1758 survived. She learned to write during a time when three in five women in New England could not sign their names. She never sat for a portrait. She collected a library of everything her brother, Ben Franklin, wrote. Her brother taught himself to write by reading, and he taught her through letter-writing. They wrote to each other often and at a later stage in life, they seemed to be best friends. Yet he never mentioned her in his memoir (tho ...more
Nov 08, 2013 Sally rated it it was amazing
I'm supposed to be finished with all things Franklin and working on the next book, but I couldn't resist. When people used to ask me what kind of historical fiction I wrote I'd say "small stories about big ideas." Benjamin Franklin's Bastard was first that could be called a "big story," but I found myself once again focusing on the women involved in that story who had fallen into the historical cracks. I so loved to sink my teeth into Jill Lepore's book about what might appear to be another smal ...more
Mar 03, 2014 Lisa rated it liked it
Because of books like this, I wish that goodreads offered rating options in addition to stars. Gleaning as much information as she did from the limited information available about Jane Franklin really was an astonishing feat. I would like to give Jill Lepore 5+ stars for research and insight. I gave it three stars overall because it is tedious to read and the emphasis on the life of Jane's brother, Ben Franklin (not surprisingly) is overly emphasized. Honestly, I would have preferred more commen ...more
Susan Albert
I loved this book. It's unique in its juxtaposition of the lives of an unknown 18th-century woman, Jane Franklin Mecom and her universally-known and admired brother, Benjamin Franklin. The one illuminates the other, and both illuminate colonial America in a way I haven't understood it before. From recipes for soap (wax myrtle?) to the travails of childbirth and child rearing, the difficulties in getting from here to there safely, and even sending and receiving letters--BOOK OF AGES is enormously ...more
Nov 22, 2013 Cynthia rated it really liked it
Everywoman's History

"Book of Ages" is history at its most enjoyable. Though the book purports to be mostly about Jane Franklin Mecom it's more about her brother Benjamin and the history of the time they lived in. This is not a negative and it is not because of a lack of research effort on author Jill Lepore's part. Jane was a nobody. This resulted in most of the letters she wrote to her beloved brother being lost. They were destroyed due because they were not considered valuable. On the other ha
Jan 17, 2014 Ann rated it really liked it
I was half way through the book (49% on my kindle, I think) when Jane died and Lepore started ruminating on the difference between fiction and history. I got excited, thinking "Now the book is going to start in earnest, after a long demonstration of the tiny bits of information available for straight history." But, spoiler alert, the rest of the book was appendices.

Lepore's New Yorker article about Jane Franklin had all the wallop and most of the interesting detail that were in the book. The bes
Michele Clements
Nov 04, 2013 Michele Clements rated it it was amazing
I will be the first to admit that I doubt my own rating. I do not usually read historical non-fiction, and I do not expect to start. What made me purchase this book was an interview with Jill Lepore on NPR. She spoke of Jane Franklin so eloquently - and even tenderly - that I felt curious and moved. I have been exhausted by a string of high-profile nonfiction books by people like Eric Larsen and his "Look at me!" brand of constructing historical narrative that I honestly was not sure what it wou ...more
Erin Lindsay McCabe
What convinced me I needed to read this book was Jill Lepore's essay about her mother and this book's inception: It's beautiful. If you love the way she writes this essay, then you will appreciate this book, which was fascinating to me-- both for what I learned about women's lives during the Revolutionary War era and also for the beauty with which it is crafted. Over and over I was amazed by the depth of Lepore's research, impressed by the way she marsha ...more
Carl Rollyson
Dec 23, 2013 Carl Rollyson rated it it was amazing
When Benjamin Franklin ran away from Boston, fed up with his older brother’s dictatorial treatment of him as an apprentice at his newspaper, he left behind a large family that included Jane, his youngest sister. But no matter how involved he became in business, journalism, science and public affairs, Franklin never forgot to maintain his connection with Jane. Why he did so is the haunting story that Jill Lepore explores with pertinacity and patience.

This is a biography that almost did not get wr
Jenny McPhee
Oct 18, 2013 Jenny McPhee rated it it was amazing
"I know the most Insignificant creature on Earth may be made some Use of in the Scale of Beings, may Touch some Spring, or Verge to some wheel unpercived by us."
--Jane Franklin, In a Letter to her Brother, 1786

"One Half of the World does not know how the other Half lives."
--Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1732-1758

For ages now, our culture has been grossly afflicted with the Great Man Syndrome, a malady that contaminates both individuals and the collective. In an individual, the sy
Barbara Mitchell
Nov 22, 2013 Barbara Mitchell rated it liked it
The subtitle of Book of Ages, The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, is what drew me to request this book. Jane was Benjamin Franklin's youngest sister, and as they were close in age they were also close in spirit. This, however, is a cautionary tale about the differences between them, not in intelligence, but in opportunities. We know what kind of life Benjamin Franklin lived and of his inventions, diplomacy, writing, and other accomplishments. Do you know anything about Jane? No. And that is ...more
Sep 05, 2013 Laura rated it liked it
Sigh. Sadly, the author got in the way of this book about an interesting woman, Ben Franklin's younger sister.

Jane Franklin was the youngest of 17 (yes, seventeen!) children, and the one closest to her brother Ben. I'm sure at some time I knew that Ben was from Boston, but he's so identified with Philadelphia that I'd forgotten. She could read but her writing was - to put it mildly - poor. Fancy lettering at times, but fanciful spelling, grammar and what they used to call pointing and we now ca
Mar 30, 2014 Kita rated it liked it
Jill Lepore does a great job of recreating Jane Franklin's life as best as she can, given that, as the author says, "her paper trail is miserably scant." Because of that, Book of Ages becomes almost more of a reflection about the lost lives of those who aren't documented, especially the women of the past. (She asks the question that Virginia Woolf originally asked: "What would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith?") In a way, I learned more about life back ...more
Jan 03, 2015 Mike rated it it was amazing
I just finished reading Jill Lepore's *Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin*, and I can't recommend it enough. Lepore does amazing work piecing together not only a biography from vanishingly small, scattered evidence, but also a meditation of the nature of historical documentation and the place in it of the unfamous, especially those unfamous who are women. She writes in the first appendix, "But I decided, in the end, to write a biography, a book meant not only as a life of Jane ...more
Jul 25, 2014 Kelly rated it really liked it
I would give this 3.5 stars. I learned many new details about the Franklin family, however, I do think the book never pushed far enough into gender theory or questions of historical relevance. The author continually brings them to the surface, but some connection to other researchers, historians and theorists could have made it a slam-dunk. However, given that it is marketed as popular history (Knopf) rather than academic history of a university press, I can understand it. It did give me some to ...more
Feb 14, 2014 Laurelyn rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle, 2014, non-fiction
According to the Kindle, I'm only halfway done with this book, but I don't know how many more appendices I'll read. Heartbreaking at times - Jane Franklin Mecom gave birth to 12 children and only one outlived her, though she raised or helped raise a passel of grands and great-grands. I don't know how she managed to read and write (letters) as much as she did - so many letters are known to have existed but can't be found now. Kind of want to smack Ben for not getting around to helping her more fi ...more
Andy Miller
Apr 03, 2015 Andy Miller rated it liked it
An interesting biography of Jane Franklin, the sister of Benjamin Franklin. She stayed in Boston while he ran away and afterwards they would see each other about every ten years, but they stayed close through letters. Many of the letters survived and they form the basis of the biography--supplemented by extrinsic knowledge of Franklin's life and the author's research into the role of women during the time

Much of the value of the book is giving the reader a different perspective of Franklin, he c
Melissa Meske
Feb 11, 2014 Melissa Meske rated it liked it
In my never-ending desire to one day be known as a renowned author in the historical fiction genre, I felt the need to refresh my familiarity with the foundations writing style. Thus, the completed reading of Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. The book’s author, Jill Lepore, did an excellent job of presenting the historical facts and information and recreating details of the life of Benjamin Franklin’s sister that made it all seem very believable. Still, I was left uninspired ...more
Nov 12, 2014 Amy rated it liked it
There are parts of this book that I'd give a much higher rating. I love the premise, a kind of real-life version of Virginia Woolf's "Shakespeare's sister" theory. Here the sister is Jane Franklin, the real-life sister of Benjamin Franklin. What might she have become if she'd had access to the same education and opportunities as her brother? We'll never know, because she didn't, and the differences in their two lives are striking.

That said, author Lepore admits it's hard to write a bio of Jane,
Aug 11, 2016 Lynne rated it liked it
Really struggling with this. It is so slow. Perhaps when my serious book club reviews it I will have better insights.
I read several biographies of Benjamin Franklin when I was younger, but was certainly not familiar with his overlooked but dear to him, sister, Jane. She was just as fascinating as her much more famous brother. Her life was much harder, but they looked out for each other their entire lives.

Great research on a topic that has not a great deal of detail is challenging. The last few chapters on history of the great and the obscure, history and fiction, and how the author fashioned and wrote this bio
Eileen Daly-Boas
Nov 01, 2015 Eileen Daly-Boas rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub
This is a well-researched book, but the hard part about telling the story of a woman in the 1700s, is that the story has to be woven from far too few strands of information. There's a little too much guess work for me. Lepore's style isn't my favorite, either. There's too many odd phrasings, and clunky callbacks. It reminded me of when you're watching a movie and a character says something like, "I will never forget you" and there's this long pause where you know the character will follow with, ...more
Jun 01, 2015 Melanie rated it really liked it
Oooo this is good history! This book is about Jane Franklin Mecom, sister of Benjamin Franklin. What do we know about Jane? Not all that much, really, but Lepore is able to suss out from the few surviving letters to or from Jane - as well as a few letters that mention her and general knowledge of the period - what the life of an intelligent but poorly educated colonial woman must have been like. The contrast between the lives of Benjamin and his sister Jane is an important one. As a male Benjami ...more
Donna Kimball
Mar 01, 2014 Donna Kimball rated it it was amazing
This book was a wonderful look into the life of a colonial woman in the margins of life. Jane Franklin may have had a famous brother, but it did not help her much in her life. Jane's life as a mother, wife, and sister are in plain prose of an uneducated woman who felt the need to educate herself. Jane bore and buried numerous children, helped her ne'er do well husband keep hearth and home together, but she never used her brother's prominence to make her livelihood. The Franklin family of soap bo ...more
Jan 29, 2014 Fred rated it really liked it
Shelves: top-shelf
This is a great history of a hitherto obscure person: Jane Franklin Mecom, the younger sister of Benjamin Franklin. Did you know that the great Doctor Franklin exchanged more letters with his sister Jane than any other person? She could read, and did voraciously, but could write but poorly. She mothered 12 children, and outlived them all save one. She was displaced by the British occupation of Boston, struggled with a debtor of a husband, but endured it all with some grace. When, as an woman in ...more
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Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History, Harvard College Professor, and chair of Harvard's History and Literature Program. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award for the best non-fiction book on race, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; The Name of War (Knopf, 1998), winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Ralph Waldo Emerson P
More about Jill Lepore...

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“One Half of the World does not know how the other Half lives,” Franklin once wrote. His sister is his other Half.” 1 likes
“Magazines were new. The Gentleman’s Magazine—the first periodical called a “magazine”—appeared in London in 1731. It offered “a Monthly Collection, to treasure up, as in a Magazine, the most remarkable Pieces.”3 The metaphor is to weapons. A magazine is, literally, an arsenal; a piece is a firearm.” 1 likes
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