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Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

3.6 of 5 stars 3.60  ·  rating details  ·  2,267 ratings  ·  473 reviews
From one of our most accomplished and widely admired historians-a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin's youngest sister, whose obscurity and poverty were matched only by her brother's fame and wealth but who, like him, was a passionate reader, a gifted writer, and an astonishingly shrewd political commentator.

It is a life that has never been examined before: that of t
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published October 1st 2013 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2013)
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This is an interesting biography of Jane Franklin Mecom, who was Benjamin Franklin's sister. Everyone knows Mr. Benjamin as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, but his sister Jane was almost lost to history.

Benny and Jenny, as they were nicknamed as children, were kindred spirits and exchanged many frank and personal letters during their lifetime. "The two eyes of man do not more resemble, nor are capable of being upon better terms with each other, than my sister and myself," Benj
I won this book from Goodreads' giveaway program and was very excited! I'm so sad to write a review that is anything but flattering, but this is my honest opinion: Considering the title of the book, "The Book of Ages, The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin", I naively thought that the book would actually focus on Ms. Franklin. But because there was so little known about Jane, the majority of the book discussed Benjamin Franklin, and the general time in which this brother and sister lived. I've r ...more
Looking beyond great men and big events makes history leap to life--the captivating story of Ben Franklin’s sister Jane

I first learned about Jane “Jenny” Franklin in an earlier book by Jill Lepore, The Whites of Their Eyes, and though there isn’t more than a few pages on her I was so moved and taken by her story that it’s my strongest memory of that book and I was left wanting to know more. Jill Lepore’s mother must have felt the same way because, as I read in Lepore’s recent New Yorker article,
Diane S.
In a way I received more than I wanted from this book and less than I expected. So little is known about Ben Franklin's sister that the author had to use quite a bit of filler and off topic information. The whole history in England, of the beginnings of the family and pf course how the family spread, how Franklin made so much of his self coming from so little. Much of this information was fascinating but at the same time not what I expected from this book.

Did expect more information on Jane and
Nov 26, 2013 Cheryl rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Biography, Gender studies and American history fanatics
She was born in 1712 but none of her letters before 1758 survived. She learned to write during a time when three in five women in New England could not sign their names. She never sat for a portrait. She collected a library of everything her brother, Ben Franklin, wrote. Her brother taught himself to write by reading, and he taught her through letter-writing. They wrote to each other often and at a later stage in life, they seemed to be best friends. Yet he never mentioned her in his memoir (tho ...more
It is difficult to convey the pleasure and excitement with which I read this history of Jane Franklin Mecom. Lepore carefully reconstructs the period in which the Franklins lived and pieces together the life of Franklin’s sister from fragments—using a few of the many letters she wrote to her famous brother, Benjamin Franklin. She forces one realize again what historical research requires, and how much we miss. But one comes away from Jane’s Book of Ages with wonder and awe at how much Lepore was ...more
Sally Cabot
I'm supposed to be finished with all things Franklin and working on the next book, but I couldn't resist. When people used to ask me what kind of historical fiction I wrote I'd say "small stories about big ideas." Benjamin Franklin's Bastard was first that could be called a "big story," but I found myself once again focusing on the women involved in that story who had fallen into the historical cracks. I so loved to sink my teeth into Jill Lepore's book about what might appear to be another smal ...more
Everywoman's History

"Book of Ages" is history at its most enjoyable. Though the book purports to be mostly about Jane Franklin Mecom it's more about her brother Benjamin and the history of the time they lived in. This is not a negative and it is not because of a lack of research effort on author Jill Lepore's part. Jane was a nobody. This resulted in most of the letters she wrote to her beloved brother being lost. They were destroyed due because they were not considered valuable. On the other ha
I was half way through the book (49% on my kindle, I think) when Jane died and Lepore started ruminating on the difference between fiction and history. I got excited, thinking "Now the book is going to start in earnest, after a long demonstration of the tiny bits of information available for straight history." But, spoiler alert, the rest of the book was appendices.

Lepore's New Yorker article about Jane Franklin had all the wallop and most of the interesting detail that were in the book. The bes
Because of books like this, I wish that goodreads offered rating options in addition to stars. Gleaning as much information as she did from the limited information available about Jane Franklin really was an astonishing feat. I would like to give Jill Lepore 5+ stars for research and insight. I gave it three stars overall because it is tedious to read and the emphasis on the life of Jane's brother, Ben Franklin (not surprisingly) is overly emphasized. Honestly, I would have preferred more commen ...more
Michele Clements
I will be the first to admit that I doubt my own rating. I do not usually read historical non-fiction, and I do not expect to start. What made me purchase this book was an interview with Jill Lepore on NPR. She spoke of Jane Franklin so eloquently - and even tenderly - that I felt curious and moved. I have been exhausted by a string of high-profile nonfiction books by people like Eric Larsen and his "Look at me!" brand of constructing historical narrative that I honestly was not sure what it wou ...more
Carl Rollyson
When Benjamin Franklin ran away from Boston, fed up with his older brother’s dictatorial treatment of him as an apprentice at his newspaper, he left behind a large family that included Jane, his youngest sister. But no matter how involved he became in business, journalism, science and public affairs, Franklin never forgot to maintain his connection with Jane. Why he did so is the haunting story that Jill Lepore explores with pertinacity and patience.

This is a biography that almost did not get wr
Jenny McPhee
"I know the most Insignificant creature on Earth may be made some Use of in the Scale of Beings, may Touch some Spring, or Verge to some wheel unpercived by us."
--Jane Franklin, In a Letter to her Brother, 1786

"One Half of the World does not know how the other Half lives."
--Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, 1732-1758

For ages now, our culture has been grossly afflicted with the Great Man Syndrome, a malady that contaminates both individuals and the collective. In an individual, the sy
Barbara Mitchell
The subtitle of Book of Ages, The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin, is what drew me to request this book. Jane was Benjamin Franklin's youngest sister, and as they were close in age they were also close in spirit. This, however, is a cautionary tale about the differences between them, not in intelligence, but in opportunities. We know what kind of life Benjamin Franklin lived and of his inventions, diplomacy, writing, and other accomplishments. Do you know anything about Jane? No. And that is ...more
Nathaniel Popkin
Reprinted from my review in: Art Attack/

“In the eighteenth century,” writes Jill Lepore in her strikingly original new work, Book of Ages (A.A. Knopf, for sale October 1), nominated for the National Book Award, “history and fiction split. Benjamin Franklin’s life entered the annals of history; lives like his sister’s became the subject of fiction. Histories of great men, novels of little women.”

Book of Ages, a history that borrows from the literary ambition of fiction, is a deeply inve
Sigh. Sadly, the author got in the way of this book about an interesting woman, Ben Franklin's younger sister.

Jane Franklin was the youngest of 17 (yes, seventeen!) children, and the one closest to her brother Ben. I'm sure at some time I knew that Ben was from Boston, but he's so identified with Philadelphia that I'd forgotten. She could read but her writing was - to put it mildly - poor. Fancy lettering at times, but fanciful spelling, grammar and what they used to call pointing and we now ca
Jill Lepore does a great job of recreating Jane Franklin's life as best as she can, given that, as the author says, "her paper trail is miserably scant." Because of that, Book of Ages becomes almost more of a reflection about the lost lives of those who aren't documented, especially the women of the past. (She asks the question that Virginia Woolf originally asked: "What would have happened had Shakespeare had a wonderfully gifted sister, called Judith?") In a way, I learned more about life back ...more
I would give this 3.5 stars. I learned many new details about the Franklin family, however, I do think the book never pushed far enough into gender theory or questions of historical relevance. The author continually brings them to the surface, but some connection to other researchers, historians and theorists could have made it a slam-dunk. However, given that it is marketed as popular history (Knopf) rather than academic history of a university press, I can understand it. It did give me some to ...more
According to the Kindle, I'm only halfway done with this book, but I don't know how many more appendices I'll read. Heartbreaking at times - Jane Franklin Mecom gave birth to 12 children and only one outlived her, though she raised or helped raise a passel of grands and great-grands. I don't know how she managed to read and write (letters) as much as she did - so many letters are known to have existed but can't be found now. Kind of want to smack Ben for not getting around to helping her more fi ...more
Melissa Crockett Meske
In my never-ending desire to one day be known as a renowned author in the historical fiction genre, I felt the need to refresh my familiarity with the foundations writing style. Thus, the completed reading of Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin. The book’s author, Jill Lepore, did an excellent job of presenting the historical facts and information and recreating details of the life of Benjamin Franklin’s sister that made it all seem very believable. Still, I was left uninspired ...more
There are parts of this book that I'd give a much higher rating. I love the premise, a kind of real-life version of Virginia Woolf's "Shakespeare's sister" theory. Here the sister is Jane Franklin, the real-life sister of Benjamin Franklin. What might she have become if she'd had access to the same education and opportunities as her brother? We'll never know, because she didn't, and the differences in their two lives are striking.

That said, author Lepore admits it's hard to write a bio of Jane,
I read several biographies of Benjamin Franklin when I was younger, but was certainly not familiar with his overlooked but dear to him, sister, Jane. She was just as fascinating as her much more famous brother. Her life was much harder, but they looked out for each other their entire lives.

Great research on a topic that has not a great deal of detail is challenging. The last few chapters on history of the great and the obscure, history and fiction, and how the author fashioned and wrote this bio
I just finished reading Jill Lepore's *Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin*, and I can't recommend it enough. Lepore does amazing work piecing together not only a biography from vanishingly small, scattered evidence, but also a meditation of the nature of historical documentation and the place in it of the unfamous, especially those unfamous who are women. She writes in the first appendix, "But I decided, in the end, to write a biography, a book meant not only as a life of Jane ...more
Donna Kimball
This book was a wonderful look into the life of a colonial woman in the margins of life. Jane Franklin may have had a famous brother, but it did not help her much in her life. Jane's life as a mother, wife, and sister are in plain prose of an uneducated woman who felt the need to educate herself. Jane bore and buried numerous children, helped her ne'er do well husband keep hearth and home together, but she never used her brother's prominence to make her livelihood. The Franklin family of soap bo ...more
This is a great history of a hitherto obscure person: Jane Franklin Mecom, the younger sister of Benjamin Franklin. Did you know that the great Doctor Franklin exchanged more letters with his sister Jane than any other person? She could read, and did voraciously, but could write but poorly. She mothered 12 children, and outlived them all save one. She was displaced by the British occupation of Boston, struggled with a debtor of a husband, but endured it all with some grace. When, as an woman in ...more
Penelope Marzec
At a time when it was believed women should have a needle in their hands instead of a pen, Jane Franklin's brother taught her to write. Though Benjamin Franklin ran away from home at the age of seventeen, over the years he wrote to Jane and she wrote back to him. She married at the age of sixteen and suffered the loss of all of her children except one. She raised her grandchildren and some of her great-grandchildren. She had a hard life, but Jane was made of strong stuff and despite the odds, sh ...more
What a wonderful piece of historical research. Jill Lepore decides to tell the story of not the obvious choice to write about in the Franklin family (Benjamin) but his younger sister by several years, Jane. This is a much more difficult task as there was very little of her fascinating life that was left behind. She was her brother's favorite sibling and they were confidants till his eventual death. This book strikingly portrays a lady who struggles to overcome gender issues that were so apparen ...more
This is a book about Benjamin Franklin's obscure (and favorite) sister, Jane. (The Book of Ages is a pamphlet that Jane made to record important dates in her life.) The author used correspondence between the two siblings and other historical documents to create a well-researched, very interesting as well as entertaining "biography". The book runs the gamut of the mundane chore of soap making to fleeing Boston after the British occupation. I enjoyed learning about the culture and way of life in t ...more
Jane Franklin was Benjamin Franklin's youngest sister and for their entire lives, they corresponded. Ben told her about Philadelphia, Europe, science and the dramatic life he inhabited. Jane wrote to Ben about her children--their illnesses and concerns, her husband's searching for a job, the small concerns of day-to-day life. She was as educated as a woman needed to be in those days--she loved to read, especially anything by her brother, and could write, although her spelling was erratic.

Jill Le
Jill Lepore is a scholar who has a gift for writing about history. You don't have to be a specialist to enjoy reading her books or the articles on American history she writes as a New Yorker staff writer. In fact, it was her appealing article there about how she came to write about Jane Franklin that interested me in the book.

In "A Room of One's Own," Virginia Woolf imagined what life might have been like for Judith, a talented imaginary sibling of William Shakespeare. In "Book of Ages," Lepore
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Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History, Harvard College Professor, and chair of Harvard's History and Literature Program. She is also a staff writer at The New Yorker.

Winner of the Anisfield-Wolf Award for the best non-fiction book on race, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; The Name of War (Knopf, 1998), winner of the Bancroft Prize, the Ralph Waldo Emerson P
More about Jill Lepore...
The Secret History of Wonder Woman The Name of War: King Philip's War and the Origins of American Identity The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle over American History New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan

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“One Half of the World does not know how the other Half lives,” Franklin once wrote. His sister is his other Half.” 1 likes
“Jane Francklyne, born in 1565, had lived for less than a month. She left very little behind. She was buried in the Ecton churchyard, but her father would hardly have paid a carver to engrave so small a stone. If not for the parish register, there would be no record that this Jane Francklyne had ever lived at all. History is what is written and can be found; what isn't saved is lost, sunken and rotted, eaten by the earth.” 0 likes
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