But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
A brilliant biography. IT is hard to separate my love of Morris' second Roosevelt biography from my love of TR. The book captures the dynamo-President's force, eccentricities, and political skill while also accurately capturing the politics of the time and the rise of America's global power. Occasionally a person enters the global stage with such energy, power, competence and audacity that it seems the earth moves for them and water separates. I can only think of a couple other leaders that capture the Nietzsche' Übermensch ideal (Napoleon, Fredrick the Great, Alexander, Caesar, etc) as well. Even when Teddy wasn't super, he was still super lucky.
This is one of those works of nonfiction where it is difficult (if not impossible) to rate. As a memoir or narrative autobiography it is good and solid, just not great. After reading it, I wished Douglas had gone into more detail and bulked it up a bit with more of his experiences.
However, if you consider the time, the author, the impact, etc., of NLoFD it is hard NOT to give the book every accolade. This book seems to be the 'Common Sense' of the Pre-Civil War abolitionist movement. It didn't just summarize sentiments of abolitionists and slaves, but seemed to actually create energy and expand the movement out Douglass' words (like Paine's 'Common Sense' did in the 1770s).
So grade that. How do you rate something that transformed US?
Even in death, I can't imagine Franklin resting. There is always just too much to do, too many questions to ask, too many books to read, too much to explore.
My brother recommended this book to me about 30 years ago. I'm not sure why I never read it until now. Part of it must be the feeling that Benjamin Franklin would always just be there. He wasn't going anywhere. He seems to permeate so much of what it means to be an American and our historical narrative. His autobiography, which is divided into two parts, ends in 1757. So all of the Revolutionary War Franklin and Continental Congress Franklin is obviously missing. These are his early years. It is a portrait of a polymath as a young man. It shows his curiosity, his work ethic, his creativity, his risk-taking, his bridge-building. All the things that would later be used as part of the myth-making around Franklin.
After reading this autobiography, I kinda agree with Christopher Hitchen's take about the role of Benjamin Franklin as the Socrates of his day:
"Franklin was also the main man. He was drafted onto the committee that drew up the Declaration (and may well have been the one who imposed the ringing term "self-evident," as against the more pompous "sacred and undeniable" in its crucial opening stave.) When George Washington's horse bore him into Philadelphia for the grueling meeting that would eventually evolve the United States Constitution, it was at Franklin's front door that the president necessarily made his first stop.... -
The thing about reading Franklin is you are never quite sure when he is pulling one over on the reader. His humor was dry and sharp. He could adapt the language of his foes and flail them with it. He was happy to guide and get things done, rather than glory and stay stationary. He was an American original and we are all better for his curiosity, his humor, his readiness to take risks, his ability to learn and adapt. When people talk about standing on the backs of giants, I imagine we all have climbed a bit on the back of Franklin.