The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin
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The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  2,583 ratings  ·  109 reviews
From the most respected chronicler of the early days of the Republic—and winner of both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes—comes a landmark work that rescues Benjamin Franklin from a mythology that has blinded generations of Americans to the man he really was and makes sense of aspects of his life and career that would have otherwise remained mysterious. In place of the geni...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 31st 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 2004)
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The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard BailynAnti-Intellectualism in American Life by Richard HofstadterThe Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 by Gordon S. WoodThe Metaphysical Club by Louis MenandThe Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom
US Intellectual History
37th out of 115 books — 39 voters
Cloud Atlas by David MitchellJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna ClarkeThe Plot Against America by Philip RothThe Amateur Marriage by Anne TylerGilead by Marilynne Robinson
New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2004
25th out of 100 books — 25 voters


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Erik Simon
All this talk of Gordon Wood reminded me of this book, which is probably the book that initially made me like him so much. Franklin, according to Wood, was one of the last of the Founding Fathers to come on board. He was a Loyalist and wanted to work things out with Britain, and what changed him was a trip to England where, in Parliament, he was personally ridiculed and humiliated. Wood deals with that, but he deals with it in the context of a discussion on the difference between who Franklin re...more
Bart Breen
Deceptively Simple

You'd expect this book to get high marks, by virtue of the Author and his past credentials. What is remarkable is how compact and easy to comprehend it is, given that source and his prior accolades.

The premise is simple. Franklin has been perceived to a mythological degree by those who see him as the historical icon of his age. Therefore, what is in order here is a piercing of that veil to show Franklin as a man, with the all too human qualities that are lost in the more popula...more
Mark
Philadelphia is one of two American cities that Ben Franklin called home (the other being Boston, where he lived until he came to Philadelphia in his late teens). I don't know whether or not Boston embraces their Franklin connection, but Philadelphia certainly does. Much of the tourism advertising coming out of Philly features ol' Ben, and in the Old City section, where Franklin lived and worked (and where I've worked the last eleven years), it's hard to avoid the Franklin legacy. It's not unusu...more
Richard
When I began reading this biography, I had only the most superficial knowledge regarding Benjamin Franklin. All I knew of the man was largely based on factoids remembered from high school history. I'm no American History scholar, although I have a strong interest in Colonial America. So when it came time to pick up a book about Franklin, I must have been exceedingly lucky to have grabbed Gordon S. Wood's tome.

I had no idea about Franklin having been initially pro-British before he became our mos...more
Emma Burkhart
I am trying to read more nonfiction lately, and the title of this book induced me to pick it up. The book examines how Ben Franklin, the iconic American, was not always the firebrand patriot he is historically portrayed as. Despite the fact that he later became a symbol of the hardworking everyman, in his youth he worked very hard to become a "gentleman," part of colonial America's elite. Additionally, he supported British imperialism for many years, attempting to unite the colonies not as a mea...more
Barbara
Excellent book about Benjamin Franklin. Now I have a much better understanding of how Franklin's involvement in Philadelphia, the emerging colony of America and the American Revolution had such an impact. My favorite line in the book, in a chapter headed "The Symbolic American", relates to Franklin's mission in France to get support for the American Revolution. Wood writes, "In 1776, Franklin was the most potent weapon the United States possessed in its struggle with the greatest power [England]...more
Mae
Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was a British loyalist up until *1775*?? ME NEITHER.

It actually seems like he switched sides as a result of having his pride insulted by the English. I hate to admit it but reading this book did alter my view of Benjamin Franklin in a mostly negatively way. Not that the book was itself critical of its subject.

I'm definitely interested in reading some more founding father literature now. One of my favorite things was how John Adams' dislike of Franklin and some...more
Vincent Li
Gordon Wood is really one of my favorite historians. What I think he does particularly well is to put the American revolution in the context of wider worldwide events and intellectual movements. The revolution for Wood is not in isolation but to be understood in wider circles of Enlightenment philosophy, European rivalry, as well as post-revolutionary needs for symbols. I'm not a fan of blatant revisionism for revisionism's sake, but I think Wood's original and creative ways of interpreting hist...more
Rachel
Who knew that we owe Franklin for The American Dream; his much-published autobiography created a wealthy middle class in 19th Century America w/ a work ethic and philosophy of the value of money that has made America what it is today. B/c of his great celebrity due to his writings on electricity, France fell in love w/ him and was willing to fund the American Revolution.
Annie Palmer
What a great read....I loved learning about the complexities of Franklin's character, his hard-working attitude, and his ties to Britian and Loyalists before he turned to being a Patriot. He was not a perfect man, as nobody is, but he certianly remains a hero in many ways.
Jan
Interesting discussion of how Franklin came to support the Revolutionary cause. Wood argues that Franklin was the epitome of the Middle Class, and purposely created his image to support that view.
Crystal
Loses itself at points, but ultimately a fresh perspective on how Mr. Franklin became the patriot we all know and love. Spoiler alert: he was kind of a jerk to his wife.
Mary Freshley
Gordon Wood, highly respected early American historian, doesn't try to cover all of Franklin's long life, of which there are numerous fine biographies. Instead, he focuses on the process by which Franklin, a loyal and dedicated citizen of Great Britain and King George III, came to disavow his allegiance and ardently join the Patriot cause just as hostilities erupted. There are many surprising revelations in this book which upend our modern perception of Franklin as "the ultimate American Foundin...more
Eman
Great book
Paul Haspel
"As American as Benjamin Franklin" -- it's easy to imagine someone saying that. With his rise from humble origins to wealth and fame, Franklin seems to epitomize the American Dream; he seems as American as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. Strange, therefore, to reflect that for a large part of his life, Franklin lived in Great Britain, and considered himself as British as cricket, fish-and-chips, plum pudding, and Austin-Healey.

Such revisionist considerations are at the heart of Gor...more
Garrett Burnett
Walter Isaacson wrote a great one on Franklin a few years ago. If you want a straight biography (and a lengthy one), that's the book for you. Wood takes a different approach. Benjamin Franklin is in many ways the quintessential American: a self-made man, a lover of liberty, a champion of the common people, and so forth. Wood explores Franklin's image and gives historical context to show how that image materialized. For example, after a decade in London, Franklin hardly seemed likely to be a lead...more
Keith
First off, this is history, not hagiography, unlike much of what it commonly available on BF. Even The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is mythologized to some degree, written as it was with varying degrees of jaundiced eye as he aged, that eye as well turned toward writing a work to affect the world, and especially the youth of the future, in specific ways. Also, this work is scholarly, though perhaps not quite so musty as most books which can claim that adjective rightly. The endnotes are a...more
Nate Cooley
Gordon Wood's book is very insightful in that he tackles a aspect of Benjamin Franklin that has been for too long passed over. Most mass published books on Benjamin Franklin discuss the process by which Franklin discovered the necessity of splitting with the mother country, but Wood's book is the first one that deals with the "Americanization" of Franklin exclusively. The topic is important in that this shift in Franklin's ideology played a great role in the shift of the country as a whole in it...more
Jana
This is certainly one way of destroying stereotypes. In The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, Gordon Wood gives us a crystal-clear insight into the life of one of the most important men in the history of the United States of America. Yet, the image he gives us is quite different from what modern readers think of when they hear 'Franklin'. Instead of an American Founding Father, the reader is immediately bombarded with an American who considers himself an Englishman, has ambitions of turning...more
Joann
Sep 29, 2011 Joann marked it as to-read
My father's review: 2/08/07
This biography follows the development of Franklin’s personality, status, and effect on the world. It does not conflict with the excellent 2003
biography by Edmund S. Morgan that was more conventional in reporting the amazing facts of his life. For more than 100 years children have been taught about the fact that BF arrived in Philadelphia at the age of 17 with only enough money to buy an apple and supported himself by hard work and frugality until he retired at the you...more
Byron Edgington
Here we have an expose’ of one of the most revered Americans of all time. Indeed, it’s much too confining to classify Ben Franklin as an American. At least according to Professor Wood, the fellow was possibly the very first person who could rightfully be called a citizen of the world.
Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706. He rebelled early against the strictures imposed upon him, first by his stolid father Josiah, then by his brother James to whom Franklin was indentured as a printer and whipping...more
Erez Davidi
Dozens, probably hundreds, of books have been written about Franklin over the years. One might wonder how much of a new contribution another book about Franklin could make. Apparently, quite a lot.

Nowadays, Franklin is viewed as the most "American" of the Founding Fathers, chiefly because he is perceived as a self-made man who was able to make something out of himself against all odds. In other words, Franklin represents the American Dream.

However, as Mr. Woods so clearly illustrates in his bril...more
Krista
Oct 13, 2011 Krista added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
What I Did on My Summer Vacation

oops - wrong assignment;)

I learned that just about everything I thought I knew about Benjamin Franklin was wrong, or grossly distorted. While reading this book, I realized that I never formally learned much about him at all, other than passing references in grade school (signed the Constitution, invented lots of stuff). So, after that epiphany, I was in for quite the education.

His life reads like a soap opera, from his
quest for personal independence as a young m...more
Bibliophile
In The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, Gordon Wood sets out to correct the posthumous mythology surrounding that supposedly quintessential American, Benjamin Franklin, portrayed as the cheerleader of American capitalism. He examines the historical record and shows that Franklin clung to his belief in the essential place of the American colonies for a long, long time. He also assigns to Franklin a role of paramount importance in the success of the American revolution; according to Wood, had...more
Sharon
I've never been really sought out biographies (well...prior to this year, according to my book list), but I decided to read this one because Granddad lent it to me and then kept asking about it. It turned out to be a surprisingly fast read, and more enjoyable than I expected.

It details the life of Franklin and theorizes that the early stereotype of the "average American"--thrifty, industrious, inventive, capitalistic--was invented by the French in response to Franklin's years as a diplomat ther...more
Barney
(excerpt from a review I wrote elsewhere...)

...and while I'm sure the new Isaacson biography of Franklin is terrific it's Amazon description screams populist re-hashing whereas these three all have intellectual axes to grind and are just fascinating. They always tell you in school how unlikely the success of the American Revolution was but these books really underscore not only the fact that we really pulled one out of our asses militarily but also how intellectually fierce some of these guys w...more
Mona
This book was an eye-opening and very human look into the real life and character of Benjamin Franklin as he was in his own time. How we view Benjamin Franklin today is quite different from how he was viewed by his contemporaries (particularly the Americans). Especially surprising was the number of years he spent living in England and France, and the idolatry that the French had for him. And the fact that he was a staunch English loyalist/royalist for most of his life.
Despite the fascinating his...more
Badgerdog Literary Publishing
Great men are complex men. Benjamin Franklin was a larger than life figure who played key role in the shaping of our country. Long a royalist who was toasted in England and never had a free evening the whole time he was there, he met his British Waterloo with his protest of the harshness of the Stamp Act. After that, his wit and charm played well to the French audience during our revolution, and (in this version of history at least) he played the key role in persuading the French to throw in wit...more
Johnny Brooks
I have never read a biography of any of the founder fathers of the U.S.A. till I read this book by Gordon S. Wood. I’m now inspired to read more.

Gordon S. Wood sets out in his book, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, to strip away our myths of old Dr. Franklin, and create a portrait of who the man really was. He does a decent job.

Despite the fact that the author is a professor, this book is not too academic in nature. There are many references to historical figures and facts (I have to a...more
Jonathan
I liked how this book showed the complexities of Franklin's character, life missions and the founding of the USA. Franklin was brilliant, but had many critics and seemed to be widely misunderstood.

One uncommonly known fact presented is that in order to win and sustain the admiration of the French aristocracy, Franklin actually dressed the simple part of a Quaker and let the French believe him to be Quaker. Voltaire had influenced many in France to admire George Fox and the Quaker movement, and t...more
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Gordon S. Wood is Professor of History at Brown University. He received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution and the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 .
More about Gordon S. Wood...
The Radicalism of the American Revolution Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 The American Revolution: A History

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