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A New York Times Bestseller   A 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist   A Washington Post Book World, Publisher’s Weekly, and Los Angeles Times Book Review Best Book of the Year   “Superb. . . . The best short biography of Franklin ever written.”—Gordon Wood, New York Review of Books   “None rivals Morgan’s study for its grasp of Franklin’s character.”—Joseph J. Ell A New York Times Bestseller   A 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist   A Washington Post Book World, Publisher’s Weekly, and Los Angeles Times Book Review Best Book of the Year   “Superb. . . . The best short biography of Franklin ever written.”—Gordon Wood, New York Review of Books   “None rivals Morgan’s study for its grasp of Franklin’s character.”—Joseph J. Ellis, London Review of Books   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 and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Benjamin Franklin offers a provocative portrait of America’s most extraordinary patriot.


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A New York Times Bestseller   A 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist   A Washington Post Book World, Publisher’s Weekly, and Los Angeles Times Book Review Best Book of the Year   “Superb. . . . The best short biography of Franklin ever written.”—Gordon Wood, New York Review of Books   “None rivals Morgan’s study for its grasp of Franklin’s character.”—Joseph J. Ell A New York Times Bestseller   A 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist   A Washington Post Book World, Publisher’s Weekly, and Los Angeles Times Book Review Best Book of the Year   “Superb. . . . The best short biography of Franklin ever written.”—Gordon Wood, New York Review of Books   “None rivals Morgan’s study for its grasp of Franklin’s character.”—Joseph J. Ellis, London Review of Books   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 and a Pulitzer Prize winner, Benjamin Franklin offers a provocative portrait of America’s most extraordinary patriot.

30 review for Benjamin Franklin

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    Three stars was a gift. It wasn't that Morgan got his facts wrong, how could he? Everyone knows Franklin was an earnest achiever behind his aw-shucks Poor Richard facade, John Adams was a pompous ass, despite David McCullough's best efforts to reconstruct him. But his writing style was egregious. Despite his age and credentials, Morgan wrote like a CNN or FoxNews copy writer: asking rhetorical questions and setting up false dilemmas, then telling you over and over again how he solved them. It may Three stars was a gift. It wasn't that Morgan got his facts wrong, how could he? Everyone knows Franklin was an earnest achiever behind his aw-shucks Poor Richard facade, John Adams was a pompous ass, despite David McCullough's best efforts to reconstruct him. But his writing style was egregious. Despite his age and credentials, Morgan wrote like a CNN or FoxNews copy writer: asking rhetorical questions and setting up false dilemmas, then telling you over and over again how he solved them. It may make for gossip-y, attention-grabbing television but in a book it's repetitive and boring. We got that Franklin espoused no Christian creed of his day the first dozen times. We got that the maternity of William Franklin is unknown. We know that Franklin was a distinguished scientist aside from his political roles. We had an inkling that he liked girls and they liked him. Despite Morgen's apparent effort to tell us something new, he doesn't. Before you read Benjamin Franklin, read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. The only value Morgen adds is his coverage of the years after Ben's tome ended and his access to Franklin's extensive correspondence. Morgan's "insights" into the character and motives of Franklin are largely derived from Franklin's own pen.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    I was terribly disappointed by what I was able to slog through of this book. I was also surprised to be so disappointed, because I have always thought that the small portions of the life of Benjamin Franklin that I've come across through the years has always seemed to present him as an exceptional and utterly fascinating person on every possible level. So to have this book be so painful was unexpected and confusing. This biography, which doesn't dispute my perception of Franklin's impact, is simp I was terribly disappointed by what I was able to slog through of this book. I was also surprised to be so disappointed, because I have always thought that the small portions of the life of Benjamin Franklin that I've come across through the years has always seemed to present him as an exceptional and utterly fascinating person on every possible level. So to have this book be so painful was unexpected and confusing. This biography, which doesn't dispute my perception of Franklin's impact, is simply written so painfully, and with such text-book-like complexity and dullness that it gets in the way of telling the life story of Benjamin Franklin. The actual facts and stories about Ben manage to fight their way through the author's dense prose, but the amount of effort required to glean the gems in all that weight just became too much work for me. The actual interesting bits are in spite of, rather than because of the writing style of the book. I'm sorry to have to be so negative about this book, particularly as the author is clearly an academic luminary - "Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale" no less. But just because you're a celebrated professor doesn't mean your writing is engaging, and the writing in this book just isn't. I haven't given up on Ben Franklin's life, but I clearly need to find a more engaging biography of him, one that tells more stories and really reflects a more accessible approach to telling us about his life. A man as accomplished and important as Benjamin Franklin shouldn't have a biography about his life putting people to sleep, and that's what this bio did to me, unfortunately.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Gerry

    I have read books on American Founding Fathers that have included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and even one on George Mason. I was reluctant in the past to read anything on Dr. Benjamin Franklin only because of the complex person that he was in his life, and to those of us to History and love of the same. I am happy to say that I am glad that this would be the first book on Dr. Franklin that I would read. This author Mr. Morgan captures (or attempts to capture) that complexit I have read books on American Founding Fathers that have included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and even one on George Mason. I was reluctant in the past to read anything on Dr. Benjamin Franklin only because of the complex person that he was in his life, and to those of us to History and love of the same. I am happy to say that I am glad that this would be the first book on Dr. Franklin that I would read. This author Mr. Morgan captures (or attempts to capture) that complexity well without making any sort of claim that he “solved the puzzle” of who Ben Franklin actually was during the course of his life. In my opinion, Dr. Franklin is the most unique of the Forefathers of the United States. He was by all accounts ahead of his time, (and dare I say it), he was the Leonardo da Vinci of this same time frame. The difference in my own mind between Leonardo and on Benjamin in this sense is that one was pure science and the other was pure Public Service with a skill for Science. The long-standing relationship America has today with the United Kingdom and that of France began with the efforts of one person who proudly considered himself a British American, or more specifically an English American. Prior to the American Revolution Dr. Franklin considered himself a British citizen and had hopes that the American Colonies of his day were going to be recognized more as a “nation” rather than a collection of “colonies”. A multi-faceted person who considered his world one of wonder and one in which many discoveries had to be made in order to better serve the “publick”. His public service was to him his greatest achievement and once the Revolutionary War had started he considered himself “American” as his disappointment in the motherland was based on his 10-year effort to avoid the conflict all together. He had told the British Parliament time and again that they would gain more from America by not taxing them and would lose handily by fighting them. In his mind the Revolution was avoidable, but he also accepted that with Lexington and Concorde it was also then “unavoidable”. Ironically, elements of the British Parliament considered Dr. Franklin to be the “cause” of the American Revolution – the Parliament simply misunderstood who existed in her colonies and Dr. Franklin made every effort to explain “who” these people were at the time. Science: Dr. Franklin never spent time arguing his distractors on discoveries – one case in point that stands out well is the Lightning Protection of the Royal Arsenal in which he published his results. A local political argument ensued as to how he “procured” the work and effort. In this manner, we also see a hint of contractual concerns that were also unfounded. Rumors and stories followed, stories that would run amok in the British Press when the letters ended up in Boston – fingers were also pointed toward different people. The finger pointing would lead to a classic old fashioned duel; one dueler would be injured as a result and this then led to yet another announced duel. Before the second duel took place, Dr. Franklin wrote an article in the London Chronicle and claimed “…I am the person who obtained and transmitted to Boston the letters in question…” This article had appeared on 25 December 1773. More importantly, what is noticeable here is how the anger across the ocean had been brought to a boiling point in both directions from Parliament in London to the known powder keg that lay in Boston Massachusetts. As time of the news traveled on this “Lighting Protection of the Royal Arsenal” and a law suit had been attempted in January of 1774, the effort was lost when in January of 1774 it was learned in England of the “Boston Tea Party” just a month previous. Dr. Franklins work on the smokeless stove, chimneys, rigs for smaller ships for better aerodynamics is comparative to Da Vinci’s “flying machines”. He was a member of nearly all Academies and Societies of his day and I doubt there are others who have come close to actual memberships except for maybe Mr. Albert Einstein. When he had returned to Philadelphia from Paris in 1785 he added a room 16’X30’ (16 by 30 feet) that could accompany up to 40,000 volumes and this above his dining room – he built a contraption that would keep each of these works within an arm’s reach. He was the United States First Postmaster – but had also been the Postmaster of Pennsylvania during Colonial Rule. His discovery of the jet stream is what lead him to work on the aerodynamics of masts of smaller ships to travel faster across the ocean. Writings: What is lost to History in America are the Dr. Franklin writings in London against the Boston Port Act or the Coercive/Intolerable Acts which reorganized the Massachusetts Government, reduced the powers of assembly, and shut down meetings that also limited trial by jury. This also provided for troops to be quartered anywhere in Boston at the leisure of the British Commander. His earlier works are in some ways better known to Americans, but (again) his writings in defense of the Colonial persons is overlooked in this nation. Most important to reemphasized here is the personal belief he held that the colonies were in fact an extension of the British (specifically English) nation – what is more appropriately termed the United Kingdom. Upon the news of the Boston Tea Party, Dr. Franklin had written the following: “When I see that all petitions and complaints of grievances are so odious to government, that even the mere pipe which conveys them becomes obnoxious, I am at a loss to know how peace and union is to be maintained or restored between the different parts of the empire. Grievances cannot be redressed unless they are known; and they cannot be known but through complaints and petitions: If these are deemed affronts, and the messengers punished as offenders, who will henceforth send petitions? And who will deliver them? It has been thought as a dangerous thing in any state to stop up the vent of griefs. Wise governments have therefore generally received petitions with some indulgence, even when but slightly founded. Those who think themselves injured by their rulers, are sometimes, by a mild and prudent answer, convinced of their error. But where complaining is a crime, hope becomes despair.” Dr. Franklin believed it would have been the “right” thing to do to pay the East India Company for the loss of the tea in the Boston Harbor. An interesting point that Mr. Morgan (author) didn’t mention in this book is that the tea spilt in the Boston would not be repatriated until 4 July 1976 when Queen Elizabeth II was in Washington DC for the Bicentennial celebrations that took hold during President Ford’s administration. The value paid was increased to the value of the time based on the loss as calculated by the East India Company calculation. Epitaph of an Empire: The British Empire as we know would not be relegated to a mere Commonwealth until the independence of India took hold nearly two centuries later. But, Dr. Franklin did write “Epitaph of an Empire” seven weeks before he would have to take leave and relinquish his “English American” citizen self-status. He became fully prepared to simply be known as an “American”. He would return to Southampton with his grandson in order for his British son to sign over papers of property to the grandson. The property was in New Jersey, the British son would never have a relationship with his father when he, himself sided with the Loyalist cause. What is discouraging to a small degree in this book is the realities that American Colonists felt and believed as a whole to the time. One third of the population claimed to be Revolutionaries, another one third were fierce Loyalists, and yet, another one third of the (then) population simply didn’t know what they wanted or where they belonged. This is not explored nor discussed in this book and I do believe it should have been tackled with reference to at least 3 paragraphs and no more than 2 pages. South Carolina became the first location of the “Civil War” between Revolutionaries and Loyalists. It was a bloodbath of the worst sort that is often overlooked and rarely discussed – this in part may possibly be because of the American Civil War that would take hold some 90 years later in which South Carolina was on the losing side and the side that opened the salvos of the same on 12 April, 1861. None the less, the history of these atrocities on both sides cannot be ignored during the American War for Independence. Overall, I have to give this book 5 stars – this Author and this effort deserve nothing less. The whole book was one very enjoyable read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Joe

    Edmond S. Morgan takes on a huge undertaking in this short biography of one of America’s greatest heroes. One must assume, because of his immense popularity, there being nothing left to say about Benjamin Franklin. It may also be questioned if it is possible to capture the life of such a great man in a small book of three hundred and fourteen pages. Morgan himself states in the preface the immensity of writings that Franklin left behind that, “will eventually fill forty-six or more printed volu Edmond S. Morgan takes on a huge undertaking in this short biography of one of America’s greatest heroes. One must assume, because of his immense popularity, there being nothing left to say about Benjamin Franklin. It may also be questioned if it is possible to capture the life of such a great man in a small book of three hundred and fourteen pages. Morgan himself states in the preface the immensity of writings that Franklin left behind that, “will eventually fill forty-six or more printed volumes of the Papers of Benjamin Franklin.” He also admits the existence of his book’s dependence on the collection of these papers. It’s his ability to choose the material for this book selectively from these papers that makes the book a complete success. The book does not portray Benjamin Franklin as the Franklin known in high school textbooks. The condensed Franklin story may portray him as a diplomat and founding father, the inventor of the lightning rod, and a founder of the first U.S. library and post office. His work as a publisher and editor may impress people. The book humanizes the man behind the work. The reader follows letters and journal entries to discover his true character. Morgan shows a fun person who loves people and ideas and good conversation. His letters to various women in his life show charm and wit. Letters to his friends show annoyance and sadness in his desperate struggle to keep good relations with England. His attempts to keep America ‘English’ in the early days, end with outrage and disgust for England by the end of the book. Later, during his time as a diplomat abroad, we examine a change in Franklin as he falls in love with a country (France) that had fallen in love with him. Franklin mentioned to his mother that he wanted to be remembered as a man who lived usefully. Above all, Morgan portrays a man with a deep commitment to public service. Until his last days, he worked tirelessly on experiments, diplomacy, and philosophical thought. The book makes it hard to imagine an America without his existence.

  5. 4 out of 5

    T.H. Waters

    Wow. It's an understatement to say that Benjamin Franklin was a phenomenal human being, and for that reason alone I'm really glad I read Edmund S. Morgan's biography. Having said that, it's clear that the author is very intelligent and provided some valuable insight, not only regarding Franklin but regarding the birth of our nation as well, yet his book feels somewhat disjointed and meandering at times. Some parts of it felt superfluous while others felt lacking in detail. It seemed more like a Wow. It's an understatement to say that Benjamin Franklin was a phenomenal human being, and for that reason alone I'm really glad I read Edmund S. Morgan's biography. Having said that, it's clear that the author is very intelligent and provided some valuable insight, not only regarding Franklin but regarding the birth of our nation as well, yet his book feels somewhat disjointed and meandering at times. Some parts of it felt superfluous while others felt lacking in detail. It seemed more like a long lecture without notes than a highly structured portrait of one of the greatest Americans to live. To the author's credit, it would be difficult to piece together a short narrative of such an intriguing and complicated person who lived a long and varied life. I just would have valued a telling more comprehensive, but that would likely have required a much longer book. All in all, I would definitely recommend this book as an introduction to an American hero and historical events that most people likely didn't learn about in school.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sibella

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  7. 4 out of 5

    Demetria

    We all know about the kite and we picture Benjamin Franklin in his little glasses looking quite serious, but after reading this book, it seems like Franklin was a a very flirtatious, intelligent, charming, diplomatic man. He sounds like a lot of fun and someone with a lot of big ideas and the drive to carry out his ambition. He did own slaves for a few years though before he became an abolitionist, so we probably would not have hung out and what not. The book is pretty engaging and the author d We all know about the kite and we picture Benjamin Franklin in his little glasses looking quite serious, but after reading this book, it seems like Franklin was a a very flirtatious, intelligent, charming, diplomatic man. He sounds like a lot of fun and someone with a lot of big ideas and the drive to carry out his ambition. He did own slaves for a few years though before he became an abolitionist, so we probably would not have hung out and what not. The book is pretty engaging and the author does a good job with balancing Franklin's social life with his professional life, which often overlapped. The overall portrait of Franklin is perhaps a little too generous though and I think the author's genuine admiration for Franklin may have influenced him to create a bit of a saintly persona. Other than that though, it's a great read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    William Ng

    A little long and dry. Although it captures many aspects of Franklin's life, I felt the most exciting and compelling parts were muddled in the language of the text. A good read for anyone who is interested in Ben Franklin. But, a warning to the writing style of the author who made it difficult to absorb simple concepts in long windy passages of thick text. I ended up glossing over the last 60 or so pages, which ended with an unsatisfactory recounting of his life, principles, and contributions. A little long and dry. Although it captures many aspects of Franklin's life, I felt the most exciting and compelling parts were muddled in the language of the text. A good read for anyone who is interested in Ben Franklin. But, a warning to the writing style of the author who made it difficult to absorb simple concepts in long windy passages of thick text. I ended up glossing over the last 60 or so pages, which ended with an unsatisfactory recounting of his life, principles, and contributions.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    I really enjoy reading about Ben Franklin, but this particular biography was difficult for me to get through. Edmund Morgan is one of the top scholars of the period, but the writing style just dragged for me with this read. I felt it was repetitive and focused too much on the same idea that Franklin was simply a master negotiator Europeans loved and American leaders didn't always understand. There were parts I enjoyed, but overall I feel there are better biographies of Franklin out there. I really enjoy reading about Ben Franklin, but this particular biography was difficult for me to get through. Edmund Morgan is one of the top scholars of the period, but the writing style just dragged for me with this read. I felt it was repetitive and focused too much on the same idea that Franklin was simply a master negotiator Europeans loved and American leaders didn't always understand. There were parts I enjoyed, but overall I feel there are better biographies of Franklin out there.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    2004 wrote: Franklin, being a great thinker and socialite and Morgan, beinga fine writer and interpreter, make this book a great read. Morgan pushes history into a timeless realm. This book quenched a thirst for getting to know Franklin further and fulfilled a book report for American History.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Casey Vaughan

    Amazing man. Thankful for his vision of America and willingness to do everything in his power to bring it into being.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kyle Walker

    Maybe it was me, but struggled getting thru it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Henry Sturcke

    In this biographical sketch, the author -- a noted historian of the American Revolution -- expresses his admiration for this remarkable figure. A generation older than other leading Founding Fathers, Franklin had already earned enough to retire from business and devote himself to public service while Washington was a teenager and Jefferson a child. The international renown he achieved through his scientific experiments was of inestimable value when he went to France during the Revolution to plea In this biographical sketch, the author -- a noted historian of the American Revolution -- expresses his admiration for this remarkable figure. A generation older than other leading Founding Fathers, Franklin had already earned enough to retire from business and devote himself to public service while Washington was a teenager and Jefferson a child. The international renown he achieved through his scientific experiments was of inestimable value when he went to France during the Revolution to plead America’s case in its quest for independence, but even more valuable in Morgan’s estimation was his integrity and winning personality. Morgan does not gloss over Franklin’s blunders, the chief of which his feud with Thomas Penn, proprietor of the Pennsylvania colony. This son of William, colony founder, displayed all the faults of an absentee landlord, which seems to have violated Franklin’s sense of right and wrong to such an extent that he departed from the pragmatism and far-sightedness that normally governed his conduct. Yet the moribund government that resulted from Penn’s neglect was the environment in which Franklin practiced his growing skill at organizing private schemes for the public good such as a fire department and a library. It was characteristic of the man, and a key to his success, that he never appeared to lead, but let others take the initiative and even the credit in projects he organized. Those in the know saw through this, of course, and esteemed him the more for it. Ironically, this led the British to suspect that Franklin, in the long years he spent in London as agent of the colonies, was the ringleader of the growing rebellion. They were wrong, but not by much. Franklin’s own vision of America as a partner in a transatlantic empire, in time, the dominant partner, was frustrated in his lifetime, primarily because a succession of British governments were led by men who lacked the imagination to share it (others, such as William Pitt, did grasp it, but were no longer in power). Franklin’s hope was eventually realized nevertheless in the special relationship between the two English-speaking powers through most of the 20th century. Few people born three centuries ago are as accessible as he. Morgan based his research primarily on Franklin's own writings, which fill 46 volumes in the critical edition. At the same time, he stresses that there is always something Franklin seems to be withholding. Morgan tells the tale well and has succeeded in his goal of presenting Franklin as an appealing personality. Some other figures, such as John Adams, who is seen through the prism of his own overweening vanity and faulted for claiming to one and all he could have done a better job negotiating with both the French and English, come off more poorly. I would have liked more of an exploration of the origins of Franklin's insatiably curious mind and astounding physical energy, but Morgan avoids the pitfalls of psycho-biography. This is not a detailed biography, but a good first introduction to this giant of a man whose vitality, optimism and gregarious nature were emblematic of the new nation taking shape on the Western shore of the Atlantic. Highly recommended.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jon Gautier

    Great academic historians often top off their careers by writing concise, precise, finely-crafted books distilling decades of research, thought, and study. Mostly these books are amazing gifts to the reading public, truly the aged fine wine of history. That’s kind of what I expected with this, but it just didn’t click for me—somehow a little cork got in the bottle, if I can squeeze that metaphor like a grape. But as usual when I have reservation about what is actually a pretty good book, I have Great academic historians often top off their careers by writing concise, precise, finely-crafted books distilling decades of research, thought, and study. Mostly these books are amazing gifts to the reading public, truly the aged fine wine of history. That’s kind of what I expected with this, but it just didn’t click for me—somehow a little cork got in the bottle, if I can squeeze that metaphor like a grape. But as usual when I have reservation about what is actually a pretty good book, I have a hard time articulating my issues. This is not so much a complete biography of Franklin as it is a recounting of Franklin’s life and personality through the lens of his scientific and political achievements. Morgan does do a nice job of divining some of Franklin’s personality through Franklin’s interests and pursuits. But here there are none of the more salacious and intimate details one finds in Isaacson’s biography. I have the feeling Morgan discards that stuff as irrelevant to the man’s greatness and achievements. But also, as Morgan points out, Franklin is a cipher, as he consciously tried to conceal some parts of himself (contra Adams, who laid all of his craziness out in writing for posterity). Morgan as much as says that one can only guess at the true Franklin. Ok, but if brilliant hero is as brilliant hero does, then Franklin has to own his jerkiness to his wife and son. But he owns it lightly in Morgan’s telling. Read Isaacson for more mean details. Morgan doesn’t wish to sully Franklin with that family stuff, nor with Franklin’s—I’ll just say it—lechery. Was he? Wasn’t he? I don’t think Morgan wants to go there, nor does he care. Which seems a bit precious. But I’m rambling. I think I just wanted a little more out of this book. Or maybe I wanted to read a different book than Morgan wanted to write. In the end I was left a bit cold by Morgan’s depiction of Franklin, and also his adulation of Franklin. I also found the book a little slow in spots. Sometimes it seems as if the whole world and its events were just a backdrop for Ben Franklin; and I did not find that interesting. Among some stuff I did enjoy was Morgan’s short, but thorough, and thoroughly wicked, take down of John Adams late in the book. Morgan does a beautiful job of putting it off, barely even mentioning Adams, and leaving any reasonably knowledgeable reader wondering where the heck Adams is during Franklin’s time in France—a time when the two were really at odds. When it finally comes, Morgan as much as says “Ok, there’s no putting it off any longer, so here it is.” And . . . body slam. So, that’s fun. Of course, it often seems that when you read a biography of Founder A, Founders B and C are assholes, but then the equation holds for the bios of B and C, when they are the heroes. There are only so many Founder bios I plan to read, so I’ve decided at this point that they were all kind of talented assholes (except for Jefferson, whose talent is way overrated by my lights). So despite my unfocused and indeterminate review, you could do worse than to read this book. You’ll probably like it better than I did.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Arliegh Kovacs

    This is a fairly easy to read biography. There was a great deal in here that I didn't know/hadn't learned about Franklin. It got a bit dull toward the end but, maybe, because I was trying to process so much information. That is, I got a little bogged down when Mr. Morgan was trying to explain who the US assigned to help in the financing from France and the treaty written with them. Not the author's fault. The US couldn't seem to decide who should be there and kept sending men and then calling th This is a fairly easy to read biography. There was a great deal in here that I didn't know/hadn't learned about Franklin. It got a bit dull toward the end but, maybe, because I was trying to process so much information. That is, I got a little bogged down when Mr. Morgan was trying to explain who the US assigned to help in the financing from France and the treaty written with them. Not the author's fault. The US couldn't seem to decide who should be there and kept sending men and then calling them home. I wasn't reading it all at one sitting so it was a little confusing (I'm sure it was for Franklin and the French, as well) and I had to keep reading bits over to get it clear in my mind. Other than that, I recommend it. Especially if you are doing some research for a term paper or such.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    This was well written - which for me meant it wasn't too scholarly to be entertaining. I think we all know (or think we know) the basics of Franklin's life. This book, in about 300 pages, gave me a whole lot more detail on him as scientist, political figure, and person. How does one go from being a printer (even if a well read one) to negotiating treaties with the most powerful heads of state? Believe it or not, honesty and hard work seem to be the steps to get you there -- and general kindness This was well written - which for me meant it wasn't too scholarly to be entertaining. I think we all know (or think we know) the basics of Franklin's life. This book, in about 300 pages, gave me a whole lot more detail on him as scientist, political figure, and person. How does one go from being a printer (even if a well read one) to negotiating treaties with the most powerful heads of state? Believe it or not, honesty and hard work seem to be the steps to get you there -- and general kindness and friendliness seem to count for a lot too. I've been reading this and other similar histories to correct my woeful lack of knowledge about US history. With all the current pols tossing around their spit facts of what the "founders" believed, I needed a lot more depth. Ben Franklin does not disappoint. He was a genuinely good guy, a real scientific genius, and dedicated public servant.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Carol Albert

    Morgan takes on a monumental task here. He has scoured all correspondence by Franklin, and some about him, and formed it into an analysis of the man. He basically follows a chronological timeline, but his focus is on the evolution of Franklin's philosophy and the way he managed the affairs of his life. He becomes a human who makes mistakes, but in the end, takes action in a practical way. Along the way, we get a glimpse of how Parliament behaved, and how other founding fathers can be perceived a Morgan takes on a monumental task here. He has scoured all correspondence by Franklin, and some about him, and formed it into an analysis of the man. He basically follows a chronological timeline, but his focus is on the evolution of Franklin's philosophy and the way he managed the affairs of his life. He becomes a human who makes mistakes, but in the end, takes action in a practical way. Along the way, we get a glimpse of how Parliament behaved, and how other founding fathers can be perceived as flawed humans - not only glorious heroes who birthed our nation. Some time is devoted to his reputation as a ladies' man, but Franklin, being a wise man, may not have put everything in writing - or he may have. If you're a Benjamin Franklin fan, as I am (I tried to talk my daughter into naming one of her children after him), you should check this out. It will provide a unique view.

  18. 5 out of 5

    John

    We all know the general story of Ben Franklin'l life. But, I found this relatively short bio added helpfully to my knowledge in respect to his negotiations to preserve a British-American union. Also gained more insight into his utterly unique ability to subsume his own ideas to the public's in order to be "useful". And how he was respected for it. A wholly different kind of genius. It gave me a lot to think about. As to its readability, it is a good read; I appreciated its relative brevity and f We all know the general story of Ben Franklin'l life. But, I found this relatively short bio added helpfully to my knowledge in respect to his negotiations to preserve a British-American union. Also gained more insight into his utterly unique ability to subsume his own ideas to the public's in order to be "useful". And how he was respected for it. A wholly different kind of genius. It gave me a lot to think about. As to its readability, it is a good read; I appreciated its relative brevity and focus.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tom Hill

    Benjamin Franklin was a pivotal person during America’s revolutionary separation from England. Not the best husband or father, but a true patriot. His pattern of using a pseudonym to publish articles in his paper to tear down the reputation of another while maintaining his own was not the most courageous act he portrayed, but I understand it was a common practice at the time. A thorough, and well written book that makes me wish we had politicians of Franklin’s caliber today.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Noli

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I wonder what our founding fathers would think of present day America? This book touches on Benjamin’s Franklins young life and journey into the making of what is the basis of America today. I think many people would actually be surprised on Franklins stance on America’s independence. If you’re wanting to learn more about Benjamin’s Franklins life and learn a more about the start of America’s independence, this is a good book to start.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mian Osumi

    Came away with a really strong appreciation for Franklin. Really fascinating, disciplined guy, and most of all impressive with how his personality differed so much from the typical "great man in history" narrative--always known as a good listener, thoughtful, and even somewhat of a people pleaser, and yet very effective in shaping others (and even a whole country, France!) to his moulding. A lot to learn both personally and politically. Came away with a really strong appreciation for Franklin. Really fascinating, disciplined guy, and most of all impressive with how his personality differed so much from the typical "great man in history" narrative--always known as a good listener, thoughtful, and even somewhat of a people pleaser, and yet very effective in shaping others (and even a whole country, France!) to his moulding. A lot to learn both personally and politically.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    Easy to read history of Benjamin Franklin's life, mostly having to do with his work before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. I was only marginally aware of all this history...especially of this one man so this was enlightening. Read for a Gold Leaf Senior College course that has been interrupted by the pandemic. Easy to read history of Benjamin Franklin's life, mostly having to do with his work before, during, and after the Revolutionary War. I was only marginally aware of all this history...especially of this one man so this was enlightening. Read for a Gold Leaf Senior College course that has been interrupted by the pandemic.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lynn

    Morgan's book is a study of Benjamin Franklin's character, philosophy and what made him tick. He centers on how Franklin thought and how he lived his beliefs. It is a fascinating book. Morgan's book is a study of Benjamin Franklin's character, philosophy and what made him tick. He centers on how Franklin thought and how he lived his beliefs. It is a fascinating book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    M DeGarmo

    Clear concise account of Franklin's life and accomplishments. Clear concise account of Franklin's life and accomplishments.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mark Pinkerton

    this was really fun to read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Rainey

    Morgan’s writing is second to none and his review more thorough than most.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Bird_dominator

    Like the author admitted in the beginning, this is a highly biased version of biography of Benjamin Franklin. It's not an easy task to make a book about him this boring and dry. I'm not sure why would anyone read this particular book about Benjamin Franklin given many other options. Like the author admitted in the beginning, this is a highly biased version of biography of Benjamin Franklin. It's not an easy task to make a book about him this boring and dry. I'm not sure why would anyone read this particular book about Benjamin Franklin given many other options.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    I had been wanting to read a biography of Ben Franklin, and this was a good pick. It's a short book and an easy read, though it took me a couple of months because I only read a few pages at a time (occupied by other books!). Edmund Morgan's Franklin is a humble superhero of sorts. Reading about Franklin, I often wondered when the man found time to eat and sleep, with all the writing he did, all the meetings he attended, and all the thinking he engaged in. I come away from the book with a wish th I had been wanting to read a biography of Ben Franklin, and this was a good pick. It's a short book and an easy read, though it took me a couple of months because I only read a few pages at a time (occupied by other books!). Edmund Morgan's Franklin is a humble superhero of sorts. Reading about Franklin, I often wondered when the man found time to eat and sleep, with all the writing he did, all the meetings he attended, and all the thinking he engaged in. I come away from the book with a wish that I had known Ben Franklin, probably like most people of his day. He was probably the most famous American in the world for many decades, but he never let that fame get to his head. I enjoyed reading about Franklin's time as a man of Philadelphia, working to mold his city and immediate society into a better and more efficient place. He was perhaps a little too successful at it, because the people routinely elected him president of whatever society, club, delegation, etc that they invented, and generally without him running for the office! Morgan is clearly a devoted admirer of Franklin, and takes his side on nearly every issue and against nearly every opponent. For example, Franklin's relationship with John Adams is portrayed in this book with Franklin in the most positive light. Adams is seen as a pompous, paranoid and jealous of Franklin. Adams is almost elevated to villain status along with Arthur Lee. It's an interesting perspective, and one that I'll be curious to expand on when I eventually read David McCullough's John Adams. One thing that Morgan does throughout the book is attempt to speculate what the mind of Franklin was. Morgan extrapolates conclusions from documents and letters. Sometimes the conclusions are obvious. Other times, I got the feeling he was just concluding what he wished to be true about Franklin and others who corresponded with Franklin. Still, I enjoyed reading the book, and laughed out loud on many occasions. Franklin was, of course, a very funny person with a good sense of humor and satire. Having not read any other biographies of Franklin, I can't make comparisons. If you want a basic introduction to the life of Franklin, I'd say this is probably a good start.

  29. 5 out of 5

    John Mark Agosta

    It is most revealing to compare what a person achieves with what they wanted to in their life. Edmund Morgan's sympathetic biography reveals Franklin's thinking in the context of how it affected his life. He begins as an inveterate organizer, starting what will become the U. of Pennsylvania among dozens of other civic organizations, always with a finger on the popular pulse, and not claiming credit, but letting it be claimed by others. By the end of his life, what he's accomplished should earn h It is most revealing to compare what a person achieves with what they wanted to in their life. Edmund Morgan's sympathetic biography reveals Franklin's thinking in the context of how it affected his life. He begins as an inveterate organizer, starting what will become the U. of Pennsylvania among dozens of other civic organizations, always with a finger on the popular pulse, and not claiming credit, but letting it be claimed by others. By the end of his life, what he's accomplished should earn him "Father of Our Country" as much as any other person. He managed the fractious relationship with England while revolutionary fervor overtakes events leading to the inevitable split between the Colonies and England. Then he funds the war by his commission to France, and after the war negotiates the peace treaty with England. In the end he does this single-handedly, to say the least, or more accurately despite the interference and intrigue of the others supposedly along to help him. The best quote of the book is Franklin's condemnation of John Adams and his failures while trying to get his way, as a member of the treaty negotiations, "I am persuaded however that he means well for his Country, is always an honest man, often a Wise One, but sometimes and in some things absolutely out of his senses." But in the end, Franklin would have preferred reconciliation between England and the Colonies, and spent a good part of his life and effort with the hope of keeping the two in the same empire. He realizes eventually the irreconcilable march of events, and when the time comes lends his effort and reputation to the cause. But in the larger sense there's a sense of failure that despite his enormous influence and reputation he has no ability to change this course of events. Morgan's elegant prose and lucid storytelling intimidate me trying to write a review that does it justice. I recommend this book as one of the necessary books one should read on the opinions and opinion-makers that beget this nation's founding.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Don

    The charm of this bio is that it is based on the large collection of Franklin's own missals rather than hearsay or interpretations based on outside sources. I enjoyed it because of the friendliness of the words of Ben, in all their delicious intent, but also realize that he is a self-made character, that many of his almanac sayings were edited from other authors and people, and not his own inventions, that his scientific work was mostly done by others and for which he took credit, including his The charm of this bio is that it is based on the large collection of Franklin's own missals rather than hearsay or interpretations based on outside sources. I enjoyed it because of the friendliness of the words of Ben, in all their delicious intent, but also realize that he is a self-made character, that many of his almanac sayings were edited from other authors and people, and not his own inventions, that his scientific work was mostly done by others and for which he took credit, including his son's work on electricity for which Ben gave him absolutely no credits. The marriage of convenience with a woman that he actually abandoned while he cavorted in London town and points beyond. If one could ignore some of these other facts of person, the portrait that Ben makes of himself as a diplomat and chief mover of his fellow man in crisis would be more believable than just a willful self-creation. But it is an intriguing portrait all the same, and I don't want to discredit it. If only we could all make such creations out of our lives, it would be a wonderful universe indeed. For a more balanced and less focused on the mental life of Franklin, check out A Little Revenge by Willard Sterne Randall, which is probably the best book I have ever read on Franklin with a better sense of the terrible war that was raging at home while Ben was on his mostly unsuccessful foreign diplomatic jaunts and attempts to set up a family dynasty, that gives a full accounting of the shaping forces in his life. Somewhere in between the two extremes is the real Ben, intelligent, articulate and slightly ridiculous in contradictory purposes. Then, if you still have a need for Ben, read the fictional The Franklin Affair by Jim Lehrer for the atmosphere of the Ben that transcends biographical studies and inspires others amidst the insane secular worship craze for the founding fathers that attracts the public from all sides into our own day, perhaps even more so than the saints and martyrs of popular religions that were once models for previous generations.

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