Neville's Reviews > Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson
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's review
Dec 15, 2012

really liked it
Read from September 16 to December 15, 2012

Walter Isaacson's 'Benjamin Franklin', is probably one of the most definitive biographies of an extraordinary man, who not only enriched the lives of the new Americans, but also the French and many English as well with his good humor, philosophies, scientific discoveries and writings.

Most of all, he was instrumental in crafting the Declaration of Independence with the likes of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

Little known is how skilfully he politicked and maneuvered the French and British to a treaty which effectively ended the American Revolutionary war, even with spies from both sides in his midst.

Mr Isaacson covers Franklins life from his early heritage in England through to his death in 1790. He lived to a grand old age of 84, quite remarkable for those times, especially after so many cross Atlantic sea journeys, taking up residence in both London and Passy, a classy neighborhood in Paris.

Fortunately for us, Benjamin Franklin wrote many letters to family members, friends and foreign dignitaries that were kept, with many of their passages quoted in this biography, within the context of the time. Franklin wrote so beautifully, and it's antiquated style needs no interpretation. Mr Isaacson only sets us up to understand the purpose of those many letters and to whom they were addressed.

Franklin's life is covered chronologically, so we don't feel like we're in a time warp, and we have the natural order of things. The substantive events and discoveries in Franklin's life are covered, supported by those many letters, and also his self-published works.

We'd do well today if Benjamin Franklin was still alive, publishing his colorful editorial letters intended to quiet the noisy politicians and bring sense to the world.

Mr Isaacson also introduces us to the many characters and famous souls who once had the pleasure of Franklins company and even made significant contributions to our world's history themselves. The in-fighting, spying, seducing and intellectual banter that went on.

Surprising too is how detached Franklin was from his immediate family, especially his wife, Deborah, whom he left for long stretches of time alone in their home in Philadelphia. They would merely exchange letters, and she dutifully minded their house, never to visit him in Europe, and to even die alone while he was on an extended tour of duty in England.

It is heart warming that Benjamin Franklin was somewhat of a celebrity in his time, especially in France. He relished the recognition, yet did not gloat or put on airs. He never looked up to the people who had inherited their wealth and good fortune, rather, he championed the hard working farmers, trades people and the middle class. He would probably balk at the disproportionate power and wealth that sits with the one percent class in America today.

Not just a skilful politician, diplomat and writer, Franklin was also a man before his time, discovering and theorizing about science, including forecasting the weather and designing fire-resistant buildings.

We all owe much to this extraordinary man, and to Walter Isaacson for enlightening us with this extraordinary biography.

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