Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin” as Want to Read:
The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

4.09  ·  Rating Details ·  15,225 Ratings  ·  271 Reviews
National Bestseller 

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 revolutionary America, comes vividly to life in this masterly biography.

Wit, diplomat, scientist, philosopher, businessman, inventor, and bon vivant, Benjamin Franklin was
ebook, 784 pages
Published May 26th 2010 by Anchor (first published 2000)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The First American, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The First American

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jan 11, 2014 GoldGato rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history, autumn

A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as "our rebellion." It is only in the third person - "their rebellion" - that it becomes illegal.
Ben Franklin

Touching the history of the venerated Founding Fathers, who apparently descended from heaven to wage war against George III, is a difficult task. So it was with trepidation that I started this book, wondering what new angle yet another biographer was going to try to discover. By the time I finished (it took me almost as long as the Re
Feb 21, 2011 Ross rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Nov 10, 2011 Marijan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent biography of an amazing person. Deeply researched, it revelas all the aspects of Franklin's life, especially those he glossed over in his autobiography.
May 02, 2009 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jun 22, 2014 Ron rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 01, 2011 Gerald rated it really liked it
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
James Eckman
Feb 12, 2017 James Eckman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to James by: GoldGato
Shelves: non-fiction
It's nice reading about a founding father who's not a blatant racist and petitioned congress to abolish slavery. Franklin wrote often in his later years about this, also stating that he saw no difference in the intelligence of blacks, whites or native Americans. He also tried to get fair treatment for native Americans, quite a change from other founding fathers. He was also extremely tolerant about religion, even writing that if a Muslim preacher showed up in Boston, he's support letting him use ...more
Aaron Million
Dec 16, 2013 Aaron Million rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
Tim Dudek
Feb 25, 2014 Tim Dudek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Finally," this is what all my goodread friends are saying. I started this book seven months ago. What took me so long. First, I don't actually read that much. Secondly, I often found myself pausing while reading to look up some piece of information. I was led down many a wikipedia trail reading this book. Finally, the printer printed on big pages in a small font.

Ok all my excuses are finished, what about the book. I personally prefer learning about history through the lens of biography. Given
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
Apr 25, 2015 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked the fact that this book went into detail about Benjamin Franklin's thoughts on religion, on the process of politics, how his love for the British changed, and moved to the American side when we had to change. It was very insightful and very funny at times as well what a great man we had in Benjamin Franklin.
Jun 17, 2011 Kathryn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Daniel Kukwa
Jan 15, 2011 Daniel Kukwa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
"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.
Michael Brown
Dec 05, 2015 Michael Brown rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Twenty-three years ago I read "Mornings on Horseback," McCullough's biography of Teddy Roosevelt. I had trouble putting that book down, and I became a great admirer of TR. After reading this, I don't have the same feeling about Franklin. Too academic.
Jan 12, 2012 Aithen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 07, 2011 Lynda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written and well researched. I enjoyed it a great deal. Did a good job of covering most of Franklin's life.
Oct 27, 2013 Denise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
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.
Doreen Petersen
Nov 04, 2013 Doreen Petersen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
Absolutely loved this book!!! Franklin was then and always will be a fascinating man. I would definitely recommend this book!
Robert Laird
Apr 18, 2012 Robert Laird rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent biography... the first chapter is stellar... the rest merely (merely!) excellent. Highly recommended.
Jan 26, 2017 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A thoughtful, comprehensive, well-written biography. H.W. Brands falls a little shy of the captivating style of a Doris Kearns Goodwin or a Ron Chernow, but is still eminently readable and strikes a good balance with his writing.

Benjamin Franklin had such an interesting life, and Brands does a good job of documenting his many accomplishments. He also, though, manages to dig deeper and venture into the realms of the more personal and interior, including Franklin's evolving feelings about religion
Mike Briggs
Nov 04, 2012 Mike Briggs rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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

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
Feb 18, 2017 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
This is an in depth biography covering the entire life of Benjamin Franklin. It goes in to great detail, and for me anyway, filled in a lot of gaps of my knowledge of his life. Books like this I like to read slowly. There's a lot of information, and if you read too quickily you may miss some good stuff. I would read for a while, put it down, and maybe come back to it a few days later. I enjoyed it very much, and found that I admire, and think I would have liked to know, Mr. Franklin.
Mirjam Celie
Dec 04, 2016 Mirjam Celie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"To genius he joined a passion for virtue. His genius distinguished him from others, yet it also connected him to others, for he sought knowledge not for its own sake but for humanity's. His passion for virtue reflected not hope of heaven but faith in his fellow mortals."

Fantastisch boek. Lange zit, dat wel...
Noah Brand
Nov 04, 2016 Noah Brand rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating deep dive into one of history's most fascinating characters. It gets a bit dry in places, but the structure of the book, and of each chapter, helps create a compelling forward drive. Definitely worth the read.
Feb 11, 2017 Jackie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was an incredibly well written biography. It does a great job of placing Ben Franklin in context of the world that he inhabited.
Andy Gavin
Oct 29, 2011 Andy Gavin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I'm waiting for the last bits of line editing on my almost-finished novel, The Darkening Dream, I've been researching and outlining the  next. Given that it's me, the new novel features both the historical and the fantastic. 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
Feb 02, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Craig Adamson
Very illuminating. I have read Franklin's autobiography several times years ago, but it failed to capture all that he did and the people he influenced. Maybe he was just too modest?

The parts I really enjoyed were in the last one third of the book that dealt with his later life (the book is written chronologically). Specifically Franklin's conversion from Anglophile to Francophile which led both directly and indirectly to his embrace of the American Experience and his insistence on independence f
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
With brand new operators alone and that's 1 5 Dec 16, 2015 11:24PM  
  • The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin
  • Madison and Jefferson
  • Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations
  • American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
  • Henry Clay: The Essential American
  • A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic
  • Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution
  • Washington: The Indispensable Man
  • John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, a Private Life
  • The Forgotten Founding Father: Noah Webster's Obsession and the Creation of an American Culture
  • Washington's Crossing
  • The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness
  • Grant
  • Jefferson the Virginian
  • Thomas Paine and the Promise of America
  • Samuel Adams: A Life
  • With Malice Toward None: A Biography of Abraham Lincoln
  • A. Lincoln
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
More about H.W. Brands...

Share This Book

“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.” 6 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.” 3 likes
More quotes…