“The best short biography of Franklin ever written.”—Gordon S. Wood
Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the most remarkable figure in American history: the greatest statesman of his age, he played a pivotal role in the formation of the American republic. He was also a pioneering scientist, a bestselling author, the country’s first postmaster general, a printer, a bon vivant, a diplomat, a ladies’ man, and a moralist—and the most prominent celebrity of the eighteenth century.
Franklin was, however, a man of vast contradictions, as Edmund Morgan demonstrates in this brilliant biography. A reluctant revolutionary, Franklin had desperately wished to preserve the British Empire, and he mourned the break even as he led the fight for American independence. Despite his passion for science, Franklin viewed his groundbreaking experiments as secondary to his civic duties. And although he helped to draft both the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, he had personally hoped that the new American government would take a different shape. Unraveling the enigma of Franklin’s character, Morgan shows that he was the rare individual who consistently placed the public interest before his own desires.
Written by one of our greatest historians, Benjamin Franklin offers a provocative portrait of America’s most extraordinary patriot.
This wonderful biography of an extraordinary man results from a perfect marriage of subject and scholar. Among the most senior of our senior historians, Yale professor emeritus Morgan (American Slavery, American Freedom, etc.) proves himself still at the height of his powers. While Franklin remains, as Morgan writes, elusive and hard to know because "it is so hard to distinguish his natural impulses from his principles," the author probably comes as close to understanding him as anyone can. Rather than focusing on Franklin's role as classic, representative American, Morgan instead gives us a portrait of his public life, almost a third of it spent abroad, in England and France, more than any comparable figure of his generation. In Morgan's hands, Franklin therefore turns out to be more cosmopolitan than provincial, more worldly than Pennsylvanian. He also shines in this biography as someone deeply committed to his fellow Americans and the nation they were creating. Many previous biographers have sought to explain how Franklin helped lay the foundations for a distinctive American mind and personality. Morgan instead takes us more into Franklin's thinking and activities as diplomat and politician and into the way his winning personality served his country so well at the moment it needed him. While suitably critical when Franklin deserves criticism, Morgan's bravura performance is nevertheless a buoyant appreciation of a man whose fame as aphorist in Poor Richard's Almanack and as the scientist who helped discover electricity have often obscured his devotion to the public good. It's hard to imagine a better life study of a man we've all heard about but who is barely known. 20 illus.
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Entertaining & Informative & Concise
Morgan does a great job of telling Franklin's fascinating life story in 350 pages so you enjoy the read without too much unnecessary detail. Many bios are 800-900 pages with too much trivia but not with Morgan. Franklin was a genius and also very insightful & funny...EAF