Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
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Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  1,474 ratings  ·  317 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...more
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...more
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,...more
Diane S.
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...more
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
Nov 26, 2013 Cheryl rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
Sally Cabot
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
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...more
Ann Davis
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...more
Michele Clements
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
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
Carl Rollyson
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...more
Jenny McPhee
"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...more
Barbara Mitchell
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
Nathaniel Popkin
Reprinted from my review in: Art Attack/

“In the eighteenth century,” writes Jill Lepore in her strikingly original new work, Book of Ages (A.A. Knopf, for sale October 1), nominated for the National Book Award, “history and fiction split. Benjamin Franklin’s life entered the annals of history; lives like his sister’s became the subject of fiction. Histories of great men, novels of little women.”

Book of Ages, a history that borrows from the literary ambition of fiction, is a deeply inve...more
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...more
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
Melissa Crockett Meske
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
Donna Kimball
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
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
Penelope Marzec
At a time when it was believed women should have a needle in their hands instead of a pen, Jane Franklin's brother taught her to write. Though Benjamin Franklin ran away from home at the age of seventeen, over the years he wrote to Jane and she wrote back to him. She married at the age of sixteen and suffered the loss of all of her children except one. She raised her grandchildren and some of her great-grandchildren. She had a hard life, but Jane was made of strong stuff and despite the odds, sh...more
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
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
Not a long book, if you don't count all the footnotes (which I do scan and did find a few interesting facts). But full of so much history and lore about the Franklins and the times they lived in. Jane was Benjamin Franklin's sister and they lived such different lives. He left home in New England in his teens and forged an intellectual and political life in Philadelphia that led to fortune and fame; Jane stayed at home, married, had kids, did all the things expected of a women of that era. But sh...more
Kathleen Hagen
Book of Ages: the Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, by Jill Lepore, Narrated by Robin Miles, Produced by Recorded Books, downloaded from

Lepore brings us the story of Jane Franklin, the youngest girl in the Franklin family, as well as another perspective on her brother, Benjamin Franklin, the youngest Franklin boy. Most of Jane’s letters were never saved, except those saved by her brother. Benjamin and Jane wrote letters to each other throughout their lives. Jane was always hesitan...more
Alex Templeton
This is a book that I imagine will be added to the syllabi of women's history classes everywhere. Having taken a couple of those classes myself, I know that they focused on similar questions to this book: what is history? Is it the grand men and battles, or does it lie in the everyday? Is it only what is written by the powerful and the victors, or what might be written by the everyday person? Lepore's book quite obviously lies on the side of the everyday person AND the powerful, implicitly argui...more
Carol Surges
Readers of this book will come away with a variety of insights in many areas that Lepore touches on as she rounds out Jane Franklin's life with information about the extended Franklin family and the times they lived in.

While details of Jane Franklin Mecom's life are less than fulfilling, the status of the eighteenth century American woman was fleshed out and appalling. The comments between John and Abigail Adams left this 21st century reader shocked.

A. Adams: “I desire you would remember the la...more
3 1/2 stars

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Overall Review:
Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin was not what I expected. Billed as "a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin's youngest sister", I anticipated a stirring and informative biography. Sadly, as author Jill Lepore explains, little is actually known about Jane Franklin Mecom's life. Lepore does share what bits of information researchers have, which come mostly from letters Mecom kept from her big brother Benjamin...more
This is a really well-written biography. It has short chapters and moves really quickly. Lepore says in the beginning that spelling is part of the story, so she includes a lot of direct passages from letters which are difficult to read, but she does a nice job of translating them.

I got a little frustrated/bogged down in the middle of the book because it slows down a lot and focuses on Benjamin Franklin. Jane spent twenty years of her life pregnant and giving birth to her twelve children. She di...more
Cynthia Davidson
Must confess, I bought this book as a birthday present for a friend named Jane, who is so well read (co-founder of our book club & former bookstore owner) I feared she would've already read it! Thankfully, it was a total surprise to her, & ought to be a hit.
I know this because I read it too, tho' I was only going to make sure it was good, by scanning a few pages. Once I'd started, I couldn't stop! Lepore made the Revolutionary times come alive, for me, living here in Rhode Island where...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. Her landmark biography of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister will be published in 2013. Her previous books include The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death (Knopf, 2012); The Whites of...more
More about Jill Lepore...
The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan The Story of America: Essays on Origins

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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
“Jane Francklyne, born in 1565, had lived for less than a month. She left very little behind. She was buried in the Ecton churchyard, but her father would hardly have paid a carver to engrave so small a stone. If not for the parish register, there would be no record that this Jane Francklyne had ever lived at all. History is what is written and can be found; what isn't saved is lost, sunken and rotted, eaten by the earth.” 0 likes
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