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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life | [Walter Isaacson]

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us - an ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings. In best-selling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin turns to us from history's stage with eyes that twinkle from behind his new-fangled spectacles. In Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson shows how Franklin defines both his own time and ours. The most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself.
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Publisher's Summary

Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us - an ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings.

In best-selling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin turns to us from history's stage with eyes that twinkle from behind his new-fangled spectacles. In Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson shows how Franklin defines both his own time and ours.

The most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself. America's first great publicist, he was consciously trying to create a new American archetype. In the process, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public, and polished it for posterity. His guiding principle was a "dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people". Few of his fellow founders felt this comfort with democracy so fully, and none so intuitively.

In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin's amazing life, from his days as a runaway printer to his triumphs as a statesman, scientist, and Founding Father. He chronicles Franklin's tumultuous relationship with his illegitimate son and grandson, his practical marriage, and his flirtations with the ladies of Paris. He also shows how Franklin helped to create the American character and why he has a particular resonance in the 21st century.

©2003 Walter Isaacson (P)2011 Simon & Schuster

What the Critics Say

"The most readable full-length Franklin biography available." (The Washington Post Book World)

"Energetic, entertaining, and worldly." (The New Yorker)

"In its common sense, clarity and accessibility, it is a fitting reflection of Franklin's sly pragmatism.... This may be the book that most powerfully drives a new pendulum swing of the Franklin reputation." (The New York Times Book Review)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (619 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Jana 01-23-15
    Jana 01-23-15 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not an engaging biography"

    I love good historical biographies for people I'm interested in from eighteenth to twentienth centuries, like, Washington, Bertie, Turman, Wilson, the Life of John Hay, No Ordinary Time and Morris’s trilogy of Teddy Roosevelt. There are a few that really didn’t engage me and this is one. Others that I couldn’t get into were Thomas Jefferson, the Art of Power, and Alexander Hamilton.

    I found this book very dry, not detailed in the narrative. It may be due to the lack of actual details available, but Washington was a contemporary and Washington, A Life was profoundly good and engrossing. Bertie (future King Edward VII) was even earlier and is fascinating (but also was read by the unbelievably talented Carole Boyd).

    The narrator doesn’t help. I’ve listened to him on other books where his narration didn’t detract from the book (didn’t help either), so I want to be fair to him here. Even if I don’t care for the narrator, I ask myself why I don’t like this book about an amazing man. What I come up with is that I feel like I’m being lectured to in a history class.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Thurston Cromwell 01-15-15 Member Since 2014
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    2
    2
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    "Franklin led at least five lives in one lifetime"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, fascinating how complex a person Franklin was


    What did you like best about this story?

    The fact that so much of the story drew upon letters from the time


    What about Nelson Runger’s performance did you like?

    Good at distinguishing characters with their voice


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nephi Wright 01-12-15 Member Since 2014
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    "good book, some narration problems"

    Mostly good, but there were some editing problems, I think at one point you can hear the narrator drinking water. The book is well written and interesting throughout. I learned a lot about Franklin, not all of it to be celebrated.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Brian 12-31-14
    Brian 12-31-14 Member Since 2013
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    "The Most Fascinating of Our Founding Fathers"
    Where does Benjamin Franklin: An American Life rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    As a biography, this is one of the better ones I've read


    What did you like best about this story?

    The inclusion of many of B Franklin's writings and quotations as opposed to just telling his story really gives the reader a better window into his thoughts and viewpoints.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    The narrator was one of the poorest of the dozens of audible books I've experienced. He made nearly continuous sounds that distracted me from the story. It wasn't clearing his throat or other loud noises but rather small sounds during pauses that I haven't experienced with other narrators. I would say that when I was in an active environment, like running and listening, they didn't bother me. But in a quite environment they were noticeable, constant and distracting.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I was surprised to find out both how amiable and agreeable Benjamin Franklin was with his many peers and historical contacts and yet so cold and uncompromising with his own family.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patricia Blank Sacramento, CA United States 12-14-14
    Patricia Blank Sacramento, CA United States 12-14-14 Member Since 2014

    pdgarland

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    3
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    "A starter biography for the Founding Fathers"

    Well-researched and written, with a fascinating subject.

    I'm a big fan of good historical biographies and of Isaacson's books so I knew from the start that I would like this book. And I did, very much. But what really surprised me was the reaction of my beau when he listened with me: he loved it! He is a 20th century American history and technology guy. Period. But he consented to listening to one "1700s" history, and was captivated by this one.

    Franklin deserves his place beside the other founding fathers for sure, but this book makes it clear that his contributions were entirely unique and not without controversy. This book would be my choice to begin exploring the biographies of the other founding fathers--Franklin’s relationship with each is tantalizingly touched on here. In my opinion, it’s also a good starter book for people who don’t think they are interested in historical biographies. It hooked my guy, and that’s no small feat.

    Franklin's life unfolded as one of the most complex of the founding fathers and so much of it was a surprise to both of us. I suppose if I'd ever thought about it, I would have realized that he was older than most of those whose names are on all (all!) the key documents of the Revolution. But the significance to me was that he actually had been a long-time pro-Colony resident and civil servant in the latter days of British rule, so his conversion to revolutionary activism was more about the logic of independence than about fervor (although he came to have that, too).

    He is portrayed as folksy yet shrewd--a person who usually knew the impact of every word he wrote or uttered (BTW, the narrator does impersonate the folksy side when he's quoting Franklin--may be annoying for some but that was somehow comforting for me). That Franklin edited Jefferson's work for posterity says a lot! His scientific work was also impressive for someone who didn't have a degree, let alone a science one. We know about the stove, the lightning rod, and bifocals, but there was so much more.

    We were blown away by how much time he resided in Europe in his adult life--decades in England and France, all of it without his wife. His attempts to get her to join him were half-hearted, at best, and his failure to return when his wife was ailing and then died highlighted his general indifference to his family. He apparently was a big womanizer--something that appears to be rather common in that era and especially in Europe (where he was free of Puritanical influences). I do believe that the author somewhat soft-pedaled his actual sexual and perhaps lecherous exploits, but then again, there apparently wasn’t enough documented evidence of what really went on. There was a lot of Franklin's wishful thinking, though!

    All that time in Europe before and during the war had a big influence on his understanding of the need for independence, a perspective that no other founding father possessed. This book really helped me understand what went on “behind the scenes” during those important years. His brothers in arms back home did not always fully appreciate his contributions to their successes. As America's first ambassador, he defined the role that continues today. Lucky for us that France revered and trusted him: his singular ability to win them over and get them to cough up the money and resources to support the cause may have been the most important action of the war.

    Recommended listening!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    GDM Colorado USA 11-05-14
    GDM Colorado USA 11-05-14 Member Since 2010

    Curious George

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    "Long and detailed"
    Would you try another book from Walter Isaacson and/or Nelson Runger?

    Perhaps


    Would you recommend Benjamin Franklin: An American Life to your friends? Why or why not?

    I would to someone who wants to know little details about Franklin


    What does Nelson Runger bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    No


    Did Benjamin Franklin: An American Life inspire you to do anything?

    Not really


    Any additional comments?

    More high-level insights would have been interesting

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    traveler 10-20-14
    traveler 10-20-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Thoroughly enjoyable biography"
    What did you love best about Benjamin Franklin: An American Life?

    Franklin really comes to life in this biography through the selection of his writing and correspondence. In one early passage where Franklin lists all the virtues he would like to master, a friend notes that he forgot humility.


    Any additional comments?

    I thought the narration was just fine - I did not hear any of the strange noises a few of the other reviewers commented about.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John C. Green 10-17-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Not the most moral of our founding fathers, but .."
    What did you love best about Benjamin Franklin: An American Life?

    This is an amazing biography of a man that had such a great influence on our countries foundation even when he seems to struggle with some moral choices. In the end, his views on life are filled with compromise and grace. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Isaacson is an accomplished writer and keep you involved throughout the book. I didn't want the book to end.


    What did you like best about this story?

    Franklin's ability to write. He was a master with the pen.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The favorite is really the most striking for me. He leaves a dying wife, misses his illegitimate son's wedding and his daughters wedding with little remorse.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    Both


    Any additional comments?

    The book opened my eyes to the great founding fathers and their own personal scabs and scars that they had walking through life.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    H. Segal Ithaca 08-11-14
    H. Segal Ithaca 08-11-14 Member Since 2014

    Cornell Faculty

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    "A bit thin on details and poorly read"
    Would you try another book from Walter Isaacson and/or Nelson Runger?

    It was good to hear the magical life of Ben Franklin, and to discover his selfish as well as generous sides, but Isaacson tends to repeat his formulaic read on Franklin over and over, while clearly hiding some of Franklin's more illicit behaviors in Europe. I found Nelson Runger's reading too slow and, even more irritating, he put on a "folksy" voice any time he quotes Franklin's letters or writings. Might be better to read this volume or find a better biography altogether.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Grand Rapids, MN, United States 06-22-14
    John Grand Rapids, MN, United States 06-22-14 Member Since 2013
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    "I genuinely Enjoyed it."
    Would you consider the audio edition of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life to be better than the print version?

    Don't know. I do know that I really enjoyed the story and would certainly recommend it. I didn't have no idea the complexity of his life. I appreciate him even more now.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The variety of info. It wasn't just about this guy who impacted lives with inventions, electricity and politics. It was about family, friends and virtues.


    What does Nelson Runger bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Through voice inflection, I understood what I should pay closer attention to.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Nothing specifically but I was saddened when I realized his namesake ended and nobody carried his name.


    Any additional comments?

    Excellent book.. I'll likely listen to it a second time,

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 11-20 of 26 results PREVIOUS123NEXT
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  • Kirstine
    Bonnyrigg, United Kingdom
    12/29/13
    Overall
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    "An inspiring story of a polymath"

    I knew that Franklin was important in the formulation of the American Constitution and that he played a part in the understanding of electricity, but had not realized how impressive were his other scientific investigations nor how influential he was in international negotiations over independence from Britain. His life from humble beginnings to world fame is an inspiring story of self-education and hard work coupled with an admirable tolerance to all religious creeds and a playful sense of humour. The book is an engaging listen as his far from perfect personal life and extraordinary public one are interwoven with the domestic concerns and important moments in history.
    The reader has just the right amount of folksy charm to narrate this fascinating biography.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  • Madeline
    York, United Kingdom
    3/26/13
    Overall
    "Highly recommended"

    This was recommended by a friend who read the book, and I was not disappointed by the audio version. I knew next to nothing about Franklin and little about the American process of independence and I found this biography really interesting about both the man and his time. It was a compelling listen and fascinating. Now I'd like to find a biography of his wife, who must have been an extraordinary woman in her own right! Highly recommended.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  • Mrs
    Wirral, United Kingdom
    11/19/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Stopped listening"

    This book just didn't interest me and I stopped listening with 8 hours left, I found the narrators voice to bore me a little and the content just seemed a little dull.

    I have read Isaacson's books before and found them to be great, this one missed the mark for me.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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