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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  119,124 ratings  ·  2,185 reviews
Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who winks at us. An ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings, he seems made of flesh rather than of marble. In bestselling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin seems to turn to us from history's stage with eyes ...more
Paperback, 586 pages
Published June 2004 by Simon & Schuster (first published July 1st 2003)
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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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 ·  119,124 ratings  ·  2,185 reviews

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Aug 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
If Alexander Hamilton is one of the most underappreciated of the Founders then Benjamin Franklin is one of the most misunderstood. Isaacson ends his book with a concluding chapter that details this misundestanding. Throughout history each generation has taken a new look at Benjamin Franklin. As the author points out, Thoreau mocked him, Carnegie adored him and D.H. Lawrence despised him. So who was right, and why?

Isaacson, while pointing out his faults and follies, does not hide his own admirat
Jul 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. The book offers not only a great examination of the man, but also a wonderful set of vignettes related to all the activities Franklin undertook in his life. This most eclectic of men, the fifth generation of the youngest son of the youngest son, dazzled many he met and Isaacson's presentation surely will pull in many readers as well. In Isaac ...more
Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
An excellent start-to-finish biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life begins by touching on his childhood as best as it can considering the lack of material to work with. After that, Isaacson takes the reader through a more detailed account of Franklin's early entrepreneurial life, through his many inventions, and into his later statesmen days. I was struck by the author's well-balanced hand for both time, achievements, personal and professional details, and philosophical and political ide ...more
Feb 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
Excellent biography which pays homage to the dense and intense life of Benjamin Franklin. His scientific discoveries, of course, with his famous kite, and his "social" inventions, such as the post office or the firefighters, will contribute to the unification of the States of America.
A very well documented biography. A few lengths in places but nothing prohibitive.
Dec 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Laura
ETA: I decided to change this to four stars since I enjoyed the author's Einstein even more, and I gave that four.


Why do YOU want to pick up a book about Benjamin Franklin? If you want his biographical details you need not even read a book, just check out Wikipedia. I wanted more. I wanted to understand his soul. I wanted to get under his skin. I wanted all the historical details in Wikipedia and more. I got what I wanted. Benjamin was an amazing person; people have only a
Dec 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
The only time this book caught my attention was when I fell asleep reading it in bed and dropped it on my face. I stopped reading before I hurt myself further. This fascinating insight on page 82 was the last straw, "For the last 17 years of Deborah's life, Franklin would be away, including when she died. Nevertheless, their mutual affection, respect, and loyalty - and their sense of partnership - would endure." ...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: American History Buffs
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Ultimate Reading List - Biography
This was a pleasure and just the kind of biography I find trustworthy. The kind that acknowledges other views and controversies and with extensive notes and sources in the back. More than that, it's the rare biography that can inspire smiles and even giggles--I'd mark this up to five stars if I could credit Isaacson for that--but the source of the humor is the frequent quotes from Benjamin Franklin himself. Isaacson said in his introduction that "Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who wink ...more
I loved this book. Isaacson did a fair and balanced job, describing the man without whitewashing over his flaws. By the end, I felt like Franklin was mine, like he somehow belonged to me. I knew he would be an interesting person, but I had no idea how much this man did with his life. Nor did I understand just how involved he was before there was any US at all. We could still be a British colony without him - or even a French one! Something else I never learned in school, France's involvement.

Apr 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a throroughly entertaining, well-researched, well-written biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson. It is lengthy (over 600 pages) and one feels obligated to read the footnotes because they further the work. The first third of the book moved quickly (childhood, moving to Philadelphia, beginning life as a printer, Poor Richard's Almanac). The middle third bogs down (life in England and France, the beginning of the Revolution) and the final third picks up (back in France, negotiat ...more
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent biography of America's greatest statesman. As told in this litany by Isaacson, it was astonishing to learn that so many principles of our government and constitution are in whole or in part Franklin's ideas or were ideas that Franklin advocated for. I would say that the second half of this book, Franklin as the elder statesman, was as perfect a biography as I have read. ...more
Jul 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Biographies generally bore me, and this was no exception.

So pedestrian, so conventional, so obviously a poor rehashing of much better Franklin biographies that preceded this one. One wonders why Isaacson even bothered to write the book. Money, perhaps? Whatever his motivation, the result is underwhelming.

One of the difficulties with biography is that you already know most of the plot, and you probably know how it ends too. To create a sense of suspense and excitement, you need to need to do two
Aug 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Went to the King Tut exhibit in 2007 and was equally impressed by the Ben Franklin museum - where the exhibit was shown in PA. Loved this book; learned so much - maybe I'm a nerd but it was a page turner that I looked forward to each day! ...more
Brad Feld
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Ben Franklin is one of my heroes, along with Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and a few others. As I start my march through reading books about American presidents, I figured I’d start with a famous American who was never a president but was deeply involved in creating the situation where there could be American presidents.
I’m a big fan of Walter Isaacson and his biographies (I’ve read many of them.) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life didn’t disappoint. Isaacson is great at making a biography
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A few years ago, I had a chance to visit the Franklin museum in Philadelphia. I was stunned by the diversity of Franklin’s contributions to the new nation and to science. The all too popular image is of a bald man flying a kite under dangerous conditions, while spouting cheerful advice about thrifty and efficient living. I resolved then to learn a bit more. Besides, I am a sucker for historical biographies.

The chapters on the early years felt plodding. Perhaps there is too little actually known
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, biography
An abridged audio tape. America was so lucky to have men like Benjamin Franklin to start us off. I read his Autobiography as a high school student, and it inspired me to be a better person. I may read it again now.

When I look at today's "conservative" movement, I am ashamed of it. It is truly a disgrace to our country. They could do well to study the lives of men like Franklin who worked hard to better himself but also to help others. He believed in good governance, in helping the poor, and--Oh
Ahn Mur
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it
This took a while. Not that the two have a whole lot in common, but the sheer size of it reminded me of War and Peace; it felt like it was too long until after I finished it, wherein I could appreciate that the length itself was a necessary medium for expressing the shocking length of Franklin's life. Though 85 is not altogether abnormally old, Franklin's life was subjectively twice that, full and productive as it was.
The final chapter was especially important in conveying the overall takeaways
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I had a problem paying attention to history in high school, and even in college. I did passably well and forgot 90% of what I learned. I was way more focused on biology and astronomy and thought history was boring. As a result, whenever history comes up in conversation I feel way out of the loop and it's a tad embarrassing.

I've been trying to rectify this by reading biographies and I thought it would be like pulling teeth, but it's been delightfully entertaining - I was not expecting that.

Jul 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, audiobook
The grumpus23 (23-word commentary)
Remarkable life. Genius. A great patriot on one hand but an unsympathetic family man. Good book, but not my favorite Walter Isaacson biography.
May 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Isaacson is getting a lot of attention and reading right now for his Steve Jobs biography and there is some symmetry in his biography of Franklin, surely the Steve Jobs of his day, (a comparison favorable to Jobs, for sure.)

Isaacson does a great job in placing Franklin in his startling historical context. Ben Franklin is old! He is so old when he was born we even reckoned time by a different calendar - the Julian instead of the Gregorian. He was a contemporary of such old-timey Puritan giants as
Apr 23, 2008 rated it liked it
This book gave me a much broader perspective on Benjamin Franklin. I had read his autobiography in junior high and loved it. I determined that he was the genre of person I would have enjoyed as a friend. The man thinks like me in many respects. I adopted some of his ideas because they fit me.

While I admired him, this book painted a more thorough picture of who he was, flaws and all. Now that I am an adult, it seemed appropriate to see the fuller picture of this character I thought so highly of.
Brian Willis
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Readers searching for a readable, engaging, and page turning account of the least patrician of the Founding Fathers can search here for a very fun read through the life of Franklin. Filled with his aphorisms and wisdom, but never glossing past his failings (his family life was very complicated to say the least), this book covers all of the great accomplishments: his publications, his entrepreneurship, his innovations, his diplomacy, his statesmanship, and finally his hidden hand behind many of t ...more
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, it's kind of* a funny story.

I had just finished Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin , and at the end was the recommendation to follow it up with Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Well, sure, I thought equably, Now's as good a time as ever. Who knows when my interests, time, and chance may align again?

You see, my friend, Amber, had chosen Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin as our May 2020's Book Club selection, and I--true to form
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy providing background in my reviews of how I’ve acquired or read a book, because I believe it helps to paint a picture of my tastes, desires, and it might even give you more information about me. In other words, maybe the books I read act as my own autobiography. I bought this highly anticipated book only a short time after getting a new job as a store manager with FranklinCovey. Having made good friends with the store manager of the Waldenbooks store down the hall from my old store, I sp ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
My apologies to the unknown library patron whom I forced to return this book so that I could check it out, right before the libraries shut down indefinitely. If I'd known, you could have kept it.

First, this book is long and surprisingly dull for a popular biography. Second, as of page 92, where I finally decided to quit, there was remarkably little historical detail - it focuses in on the biographical aspects to the point that it's almost divorced from history, unusual for a biography of someon
Jun 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Another view reminding us that all people are human with both strengths and weaknesses. I find it exceedingly interesting that some people succeed regardless of their faults, and others of us let our faults dominate. (Now, Discover Your Strengths)

Here are a few things that caught my attention as I read this book.

"Franklin later concluded that the loss of money he was owed was balanced by the loss of the burden of having Ralph as a friend. A pattern was emerging. ... Franklin easily made casual f
Chad Warner
Jun 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Benjamin Franklin or the founding of America
Shelves: non-fiction
This thoroughly researched biography takes a close look at Benjamin Franklin’s life, particularly exploring his personality and beliefs. It starts with his English ancestors, follows his parents’ emigration to America, then chronicles his life until his death. I enjoyed reading the stories behind his many maxims. The book provides insight into colonial life before, during, and after the American Revolution. It highlights Franklin’s achievements and lasting influence on America.

I had considered m
Michael Finocchiaro
I swear I didn’t know he would be Job’s biographer when I purchased this book. I purchased it after reading the Einstein biography by Mr. Isaacson several months ago. This biography is on par with that one. Insightful and complete, we get an good appreciation for this mythical patriot of American values. Now, the one misgiving I have is that Mr. Isaacson preaches to these so-called American values on nearly every other paragraph. His point, of course, is that Ben Franklin was so instrumental in ...more
Nate Cooley
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Probably the best biographical source on Benjamin Franklin is straight fron the horses mouth . . . his Autobiography. However, Isaacson's book is definitely an engaging read and fairly exhaustive.

My initial impression is that the author is careful in not falling into the a trap that so many biographers often do, in that they deify their protagonist. Isaacson takes an objective approach to Franklin and enumerates his many flaws (or at least what most would perceive as flaws when attributed to on
Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Americans, scientists, business people, history buffs
Shelves: biography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Riva Sciuto
Jan 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bios-memoirs
This biography perfectly encapsulates one of American history’s greatest Renaissance men. An honest and fair account of Benjamin Franklin’s indelible legacy AND his perceived shortcomings as a thought leader. As always, Walter Isaacson nails it.

Wisdom from Ben Franklin:
1. It is necessary for me to be extremely frugal for some time, till I have paid what I owe. 2. To endeavor to speak truth in every instance; to give nobody expectations that are not likely to be answered, but aim at sincerity in
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Walter Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chair of CNN, and editor of Time. He is the author of 'Leonardo da Vinci; The Innovators; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography, and the coauthor of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made. Visit him at and on T ...more

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