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The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  6,464 ratings  ·  168 reviews
From the most respected chronicler of the early days of the Republic and winner of both the Pulitzer and Bancroft prizes comes a landmark work that rescues Benjamin Franklin from a mythology that has blinded generations of Americans to the man he really was and makes sense of aspects of his life and career that would have otherwise remained mysterious. In place of the ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published May 31st 2005 by Penguin Books (first published May 1st 2004)
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 ·  6,464 ratings  ·  168 reviews

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Sean Gibson
Oct 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Do I find Benjamin Franklin especially compelling (and maybe, perhaps, even a little bit sexy…fur caps and gout are hot, especially in tandem) because we, by random chance and against 365-to-1 odds, share a birthday?

Absolutely not—that’s ridiculous, and I resent that you would even imply such a silly reason for…

Okay, okay—fine. Yes, when I was a wee lad, I initially became interested in Benjamin Franklin because we were both born on January 17. Come on—I was eight; that’s a cool thing for an
Connie G
May 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Benjamin Franklin has been mythologized as "the hardworking self-made businessman" and "the man who personifies the American dream". Franklin raised himself up from a position as a printer's apprentice to be a successful businessman, journalist, scientist, philosopher, philanthropist, and statesman.

Gordon S. Wood's book highlights important events in Franklin's life that show how the young man dreamed of being a respectable gentleman someday. Franklin was happiest in upper class European society
Joy D
This biography of Benjamin Franklin centers around how Franklin came to be viewed as the quintessential American and how he changed his views from a staunch loyalist to become one the key contributors to the American Revolution. It seeks to go beyond the familiar stories of his role as a founding father, writer of Poor Richard’s Almanac, and scientist conducting electricity experiments with kites. It shows Franklin as a man of many talents and experiences, who was decades older than his fellow ...more
David Eppenstein
I have had a copy of Ben Franklin's Autobiography on my bookshelf as part of larger collection of leather bound books for several years. I have never had any serious interest in reading it because Franklin has never really impressed me as one of our country's founders. I have read references to Franklin's involvement in the Revolution as part of many other biographies and his participation seemed far too limited to be of much interest. As a man well past the life expectancy of the time he seemed ...more
Jan 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Wood offers us an insightful look into the character and contributions of Franklin. Not formatted as a typical biography, Wood focuses on specific aspects of Franklin’s life. Wood does an excellent job of digging beneath the surface to show us a man driven to succeed, brilliant in many ways, but clueless in others. In business he was a good judge of people, in politics a bad one. As an orator he was poor, at conventions hardly noticeable, but one on one he was charming and convincing. He was ...more
Peter Tillman
A good, short, selective biography of Franklin that succeeds, I think, in de-mythologizing him. He wasn't much of a politician, in Wood's telling, and pretty much ignored his wife and daughter during his long stays in England and France. But his diplomatic skills in France kept the money flowing and likely kept the American Revolution alive. He was a considerable celebrity in Europe, liked that, and liked living there.

Politics was, if anything, even wilder & woollier in the late 18th
Orgil Marcus
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Whenever I hear about the name Benjamin Franklin, I immediately have this great image of the man who personifies the American dream. After reading this book, it has even made me feel more confident than ever for that delightful thought that I pleasantly take refuge in. The book also talks about how much of an interesting figure he really was during his times on earth and how his legacy was defined after his death. There were so many things that I learned about him and the pre-during-after the ...more
Colleen Browne
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
I remember reading the autobiography donkey's years ago and thought that Franklin was too punctilious for my taste. For that reason, even though I have always respected his intellect and industriousness, I was just not terribly interested in learning more about him but the title of this book along with its author made me think again about it.

As a well-respected historian, Wood treats his subject with respect all the while remaining objective. Franklin's early life, coming from nothing is
Elizabeth S
There is much to enjoy about this book, whether you love Benjamin Franklin or know virtually nothing about the man.

As someone who has studied Franklin but never considers him within my top Founding Fathers to research, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. What I so enjoyed about it was that it took a different angle than most works full of high praise for the men who helped construct America's new, republican government. While each of these men have some faults that are pointed out from time
Jul 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about Benjamin Franklin. Now I have a much better understanding of how Franklin's involvement in Philadelphia, the emerging colony of America and the American Revolution had such an impact. My favorite line in the book, in a chapter headed "The Symbolic American", relates to Franklin's mission in France to get support for the American Revolution. Wood writes, "In 1776, Franklin was the most potent weapon the United States possessed in its struggle with the greatest power [England] ...more
Oct 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group
Who knew that we owe Franklin for The American Dream; his much-published autobiography created a wealthy middle class in 19th Century America w/ a work ethic and philosophy of the value of money that has made America what it is today. B/c of his great celebrity due to his writings on electricity, France fell in love w/ him and was willing to fund the American Revolution.
Brian Willis
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This brilliant re-evaluation of Benjamin Franklin is probably also the best shorter biography to read of one of our most mythologized Founders. Other than George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Franklin's image is probably the most reproduced of all American legends. But the vital truth is that we completely misunderstand what Franklin actually did and stood for in the course of his enigmatic career.

Wood asserts forcefully that Franklin was never an American in the sense that we have come to
Bart Breen
May 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
When I began reading this biography, I had only the most superficial knowledge regarding Benjamin Franklin. All I knew of the man was largely based on factoids remembered from high school history. I'm no American History scholar, although I have a strong interest in Colonial America. So when it came time to pick up a book about Franklin, I must have been exceedingly lucky to have grabbed Gordon S. Wood's tome.

I had no idea about Franklin having been initially pro-British before he became our
Emma Burkhart
Feb 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I am trying to read more nonfiction lately, and the title of this book induced me to pick it up. The book examines how Ben Franklin, the iconic American, was not always the firebrand patriot he is historically portrayed as. Despite the fact that he later became a symbol of the hardworking everyman, in his youth he worked very hard to become a "gentleman," part of colonial America's elite. Additionally, he supported British imperialism for many years, attempting to unite the colonies not as a ...more
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had to choose a favorite historian, it would be Gordon S. Wood. His scholarship is masterful, and he combines it with a lovely literary style that is very accessible to the general reader. This book on Benjamin Franklin - not a complete biography, but rather an exploration of how Franklin came to be the archetypal American - is a wonderful example. Read it to learn how Franklin's thinking about the British empire and society, as well as the ancient aristocratic denigration of work, evolved ...more
Mae Dunne
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographile
Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was a British loyalist up until *1775*?? ME NEITHER.

It actually seems like he switched sides as a result of having his pride insulted by the English. I hate to admit it but reading this book did alter my view of Benjamin Franklin in a mostly negatively way. Not that the book was itself critical of its subject.

I'm definitely interested in reading some more founding father literature now. One of my favorite things was how John Adams' dislike of Franklin and some
Annie Palmer
Jul 10, 2010 rated it liked it
What a great read....I loved learning about the complexities of Franklin's character, his hard-working attitude, and his ties to Britian and Loyalists before he turned to being a Patriot. He was not a perfect man, as nobody is, but he certianly remains a hero in many ways.
Scriptor Ignotus
Jul 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Benjamin Franklin is the most accessible of the Founders, and in the eyes of his many admirers, the most authentically American. Among his revolutionary peers, he alone could claim working class origins, having labored his way from relative poverty and obscurity to unprecedented global wealth and fame. From an apprentice printer, to the owner of his own press, to an entrepreneur, inventor, aphorist, amateur scientist, and venture capitalist, to a legislator, to postmaster general of the North ...more
Jul 31, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Philadelphia is one of two American cities that Ben Franklin called home (the other being Boston, where he lived until he came to Philadelphia in his late teens). I don't know whether or not Boston embraces their Franklin connection, but Philadelphia certainly does. Much of the tourism advertising coming out of Philly features ol' Ben, and in the Old City section, where Franklin lived and worked (and where I've worked the last eleven years), it's hard to avoid the Franklin legacy. It's not ...more
According to Gordon Wood, the tale of Benjamin Franklin is one that thematically coincides with the creation of the American republic. You might read that and think no "kidding." However, the reader of The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin will understand Franklin's patriotism and devotion to independence were not evident from the get go and they took a long time to galvanize. This mirrors conclusions about the drift towards independence in the colonies as there were varying degrees of ...more
Vincent Li
Mar 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Gordon Wood is really one of my favorite historians. What I think he does particularly well is to put the American revolution in the context of wider worldwide events and intellectual movements. The revolution for Wood is not in isolation but to be understood in wider circles of Enlightenment philosophy, European rivalry, as well as post-revolutionary needs for symbols. I'm not a fan of blatant revisionism for revisionism's sake, but I think Wood's original and creative ways of interpreting ...more
Jan 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
For the past couple of nights I have been reading Gordon S. Wood's The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (New York: Penguin Press, 2004). Wood is the Alva O. Way professor at Brown University and is well represented in any American comprehensive reading list. He has written a valuable book about Benjamin Franklin's place, and often misplace, in American history. The book is a study of how popular representations of Franklin changed from the 18th century, through the 19th century and into the ...more
Michael Jolls
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
The title requires a brief explanation: "Americanization" as in a conversion. There's a similarity to Moses, by way of the beloved prince of an empire who rejects the tyrannical behavior and joins the rebels. So too Dr. Franklin infatuation with Great Britain. Gordon Wood spends most of the biography explaining Dr. Franklin on modern terms, enriching the context of his decisions, and explaining how Dr. Franklin was the first entrepreneur. Could have trimmed down the superfluous tone of the ...more
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, own
A well written and engaging read. For somebody like myself who cared very little about American history growing up, I am fascinated to see how different men like Benjamin Franklin were from my conception of them based on a cursory Reading of survey level histories and American pop culture. Recommended!
Feb 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Interesting discussion of how Franklin came to support the Revolutionary cause. Wood argues that Franklin was the epitome of the Middle Class, and purposely created his image to support that view.
Dec 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Loses itself at points, but ultimately a fresh perspective on how Mr. Franklin became the patriot we all know and love. Spoiler alert: he was kind of a jerk to his wife.
Matt Davenport
Mar 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
After starting off my journey of U.S. historical biographies, it's only fitting that following George Washington I would next dive into America's other most-famous figure from the era: Benjamin Franklin. This was a very well written succinct biography, I think I'm just spoiled to the glorious depths that Ron Chernow went into in covering Washington because overall there isn't much too criticize this book over. Wood is an equally-revered historian and he does an excellent job explaining a very ...more
Sep 29, 2011 marked it as to-read
My father's review: 2/08/07
This biography follows the development of Franklin’s personality, status, and effect on the world. It does not conflict with the excellent 2003
biography by Edmund S. Morgan that was more conventional in reporting the amazing facts of his life. For more than 100 years children have been taught about the fact that BF arrived in Philadelphia at the age of 17 with only enough money to buy an apple and supported himself by hard work and frugality until he retired at the
Mitchell Knapp
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, Gordon S. Wood writes to educate the readers about one of the United States’ most prolific founders. He states that the views many people have of Benjamin Franklin today are very different from how he was viewed at the time. In this book, Wood describes how Franklin came to be the hero so many Americans admire today. He explains his humble upbringing, his ascension to gentleman status, his advocacy for British imperialism, and his ultimate reversal ...more
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Gordon S. Wood is Professor of History at Brown University. He received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for The Radicalism of the American Revolution and the 1970 Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 .