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The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  22,090 ratings  ·  343 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
Paperback, 765 pages
Published March 12th 2002 by Anchor Books (first published September 19th 2000)
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#2 Best Book I Read in 2019

I'm making my way through the history of the American Revolution by reading one book about every founding father. So far I've read Chernow's books on Hamilton and Washington, and this one by HW Brands.

Each book has shown me the same exact stories and events but told through different eyes. I'm getting layers on top of layers, and it's been a lot of fun.

With Hamilton you get an inside look at the creation of the federal government. With Washington you see all the actio
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Aug 01, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: tbb-master

H. W. Brands’ “The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin” was published in 2000 and was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. Brands is a professor of history and government at the University of Texas and a prolific author. He has written nearly three-dozen books including biographies of Andrew Jackson, Ulysses Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, FDR and Ronald Reagan (each of which I have read and reviewed).

Given its encyclopedic breadth and scholarly bent, “T
Feb 21, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Aug 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Now that I've read the best, it's time to study the rest. Seriously though, folks, this book should have WON the Pulitzer back in 2001. The only book I've read and reviewed this past year that even comes close to this one is Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight. This Franklin biography surpasses every other Franklin book I've read, which are considerable. If you're looking to dive into a great biography about one of our most famous Founders, pick up this book. ...more
May 02, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was ok
Long and drawn out. You would think one of the more interesting people in the founding of this nation would have a more interesting biography.
Marijan Šiško
Nov 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
Benjamin Franklin’s story is the story of an exceptionally gifted and interesting man. For H.W. Brands, a professor of history at Texas A&M University, he is the central figure of an era marked by sweeping change because he was involved in so many other aspects of his rapidly changing world beyond political revolution. By the time revolution shook America, Franklin had already earned worldwide fame. Had there never been an American Revolution, it is likely that few of the Founding Fathers would ...more
Aaron Million
Dec 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
"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
Doreen Petersen
Nov 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved this book!!! Franklin was then and always will be a fascinating man. I would definitely recommend this book!
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a well written and highly enjoyable biography. It not only details Franklin's life, but also fleshes out the era to put his doings in the proper context. My only minor criticism is that, at times, it is a bit too detailed for the casual reader. ...more
Jul 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Daniel Kukwa
Jan 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
This 14 part lecture series is a very good overview of Benjamin Franklin's life. It is a short course - at only 8 hours long, but provides a good introduction into the Colonial Era and how this larger than life figure grew into his famous role as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. ...more
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to James by: GoldGato
Shelves: non-fiction, history
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
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I so enjoyed reading about this great man. He was a genius! He was one of the founding fathers and because of his insight, kindness, and knowledge he helped make America great!
Jim Swike
Apr 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An inventor, statesman, and Forefather to our country. Well-researched, and well-written. Great resource book, enjoy!
Apr 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
I'm not sure how this received "my rating" before now, but the 4 stars are accurate. I really liked this book. I learned so much more about Benjamin Franklin. One confession, the reason I put this down dealt with me reading something that made me angry with one of my favorite founding fathers. I am glad I decided to let go of that anger and proceed to the end of this biography.

HW Brands' source notes are extensive - 40 pages worth! His telling of Benjamin Franklin's life incorporates quotes from
Peter Beck
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: founding-fathers
Benjamin Franklin was not just the "The First American." He was also America's first diplomat and global thought leader. He was a man of science, letters and virtue, becoming an abolitionist later in life. Without his cajoling of the French government for financial and military support, it is quite possible the American Revolution would have failed. His last major public act was to forge the compromise that led to the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

Having just read Ron Chernow's "Washingt
Marto Mugss
May 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Brands does an excellent job of capturing Franklin's exuberant versatility as a writer who adopted countless personae evidence of his gift for seeing the world through a variety of different lenses that not only predestined his prominence as a man of letters but also as an agile man of politics.From Franklin's progress as a self-declared ""Briton""serving as London agent for Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and other colonies to his evolution as an American (wartime minister to France, senior peace ...more
Sep 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a Modern Scholar CD series I picked up at the library and became engrossed in from the first sentence. Sometimes it is hard to find books tape that I can really focus on, but now I'm looking into more CD sets in the Modern Scholar series. It's basically a lecture series given by a university professor on various topics, this one being on Ben Franklin. I've always been fascinated with Benjamin Franklin and now I know much more about him! His accomplishments and genious as well as his wart ...more
Reagan Ramsey
Feb 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Michael Brown
Dec 05, 2015 rated it liked it
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. ...more
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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

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“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.” 8 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.” 5 likes
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