Benjamin Franklin: An American Life – Walter Isaacson

Since grade school lessons about the birth of The United States and our founding fathers, the character of Ben Franklin has seemed like folklore, beyond human. Walter Isaacson applies personal and human elements to the man and relates Franklin’s traits, admirable and shameful alike.

With roots in the “leather apron” class, Franklin developed into the embodiment of the American spirit by his no-nonsense approach to life and through his dedication to being industrious and his deist ideals of perpetuating good works towards the benefit of fellow citizens.

Many of the adages and tales attributed to Franklin that have been engrained in most of us over the years have been clarified in this biography, for example: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” is rooted in earlier English lore and the story of the “kite and the key” involved in Franklin’s lightening experiment did not occur exactly as many of us have believed since those early days of school. Franklin was innovative in many areas such as science (treatises on electricity, invention of the lightning rod), publishing (creation of the first American magazine, gathering news from other sources within the colonies as Post-Master General) and diplomatic tact.

As one of our country’s foremost founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin molded the American character with his philosophies, free-enterprise endeavors, saavy use of diplomatic tact on many occasions in addition to being a major component and signer of the first four most important documents in the creation of the United States;

  1. the Declaration of Independence
  2. the Treaty of Alliance, Amity, and Commerce with France
  3. the Treaty of Peace between England, France, and the United States
  4. the Constitution

As an avid fan of writer David McCullough, I find that Isaacson has a similar style and shows the same level of diligence in his research of the subject. McCullough’s well-known biography of John Adams is referenced several times in Isaacson’s Franklin book, inspiring me to add McCullough’s celebrated biography to my “to-read” list.

Steve D.


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