In this new account of Franklin's early life, Pulitzer finalist Nick Bunker portrays him as a complex, driven young man who elbows his way to success.
From his early career as a printer and journalist to his scientific work and his role as a founder of a new republic, Benjamin Franklin has always seemed the inevitable embodiment of American ingenuity. But in his youth he had to make his way through a harsh colonial world, where he fought many battles with his rivals, but also with his wayward emotions. Taking Franklin to the age of forty-one, when he made his first electrical discoveries, Bunker goes behind the legend to reveal the sources of his passion for knowledge. Always trying to balance virtue against ambition, Franklin emerges as a brilliant but flawed human being, made from the conflicts of an age of slavery as well as reason. With archival material from both sides of the Atlantic, we see Franklin in Boston, London, and Philadelphia as he develops his formula for greatness. A tale of science, politics, war, and religion, this is also a story about Franklin's forebears: the talented family of English craftsmen who produced America's favorite genius.
Bunker, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America, again provides an unusual look at American history with this accessible and riveting account of the ancestry and early life of Ben Franklin. Bunker's diligent research and reconstruction of events from myriad sources were necessitated by Franklin's own misleading writings; Franklin obscured and distorted his antecedents and upbringing, as when he falsely wrote that he grew up in poverty. Bunker convincingly rebuts that self-serving representation with thoroughly sourced details. Even before getting to Franklin's childhood, Bunker traces Franklin's family tree in fascinating fashion, starting with his great-grandfather Henry, born in England in 1573. That opening section showcases the political views and philosophies that would influence Franklin's own: the Franklin family was affiliated with the Whigs, who advocated ideas that parallel those of the Founding Fathers, including "freedom of worship for dissenters, and taxation only with Parliament's consent." Bunker doesn't glorify the family he notes their support of slavery, a position that Franklin only renounced late in life or gloss over Franklin's failings, including repeated attempts to seduce other men's wives. The result is a deep, nuanced examination of the formative influences on an iconic American figure.