Bart Breen's Reviews > The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon S. Wood
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's review
May 25, 2012

it was amazing
Read in September, 2005

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 popular contrived persona.

Wood does just that in a manner that allows us to see Franklin with all the flaws and foibles that are otherwise missed.

The success of this book is that rather than tearing away the legend of Franklin, there is an explanation as to how that persona grew and why it grew. We see Franklin as the man of his age who rose from obscurity to a self-made "gentleman" to a leading diplomat of his age revered in Europe to a degree unmatched in America until after his death.

It's not necessarily designed to de-mystify Franklin. Franklin still comes off as the important figure he is. We see Franklin the inattentive husband, the doting and then injured father and the grandfather seemingly determined to atone for past sins. We see his interactions with other Founders, whom ironically attest to his complete translation to the Gentleman he aspires to be and subsequently takes the slings and arrows specifically reserved for that class by those who despise it and/or secretly covet for themselves.

This book is well written enough that it will become indespensible to any true student of Franklin or colonial times, but it also reads easily enough that the typical high school student can read it with profit.

Really, to dispel such mythology it has to be this way. Aiming for the upper eschelons only serves to keep this knowledge within its own little Ivory Tower cabal. Here it does the most good. You can't dispel such a myth without aiming at the foundation.

This one is a keeper and worth buying for future reference.
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