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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

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

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  • Cathi
  • Miami, Florida, United States
  • 07-20-13

Good book, not crazy about the narrator

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, if they are interested in learning about the founding fathers and in the life of scientists.

What other book might you compare Benjamin Franklin: An American Life to and why?

Washington: A Life. They are comprehensive biographies that portray their subjects as actual humans, with virtues and flaws, and make you feel close to them, their way of thinking, and how they became great historic icons.

How did the narrator detract from the book?

While his tone and articulation were very good, I cannot say the same about the frequent "mouth" sounds throughout the narration. You can hear him stopping to drink water, swallowing, and making other sounds that are distracting, annoying, and a little disgusting. I know that your mouth can become dry from narrating such a long book, but I have listened to the George Washington biography, Herman Wouk's Winds of War, and other equally long books, without these "sound effects".
I think the narrator was good, but the sound production team could have worked better at filtering the sounds.

37 of 39 people found this review helpful

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Great Book! Annoying Narrator

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this book to anyone who has never heard another narrator before, or someone who is so interested in the life of Benjamin Franklin that they are willing to put up with the narrator's annoying "impersonations."

What was one of the most memorable moments of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life?

Walter Isaacson is on par with the greatest biographers of all time, of course that is just my humble opinion. The entire plot of the book is memorable. There are things that at points you wonder, why do I need to know this minute detail, but then it comes up a few minutes later and you realize why Mr. Isaacson inserted such a detail.

What didn’t you like about Nelson Runger’s performance?

Runger has a habit of trying too hard to sound like the person who he is portraying. For example, if he is narrating a letter by Mrs. Franklin, he will use a very shrill voice to try to imitate her, which is very annoying since he already has a very shrill voice himself. Then when he is narrating a letter by one of the Mathers or a proprietor or a member of parliament, he deepens his voice and begins to sound more like a cartoon character. By him doing this, it takes away from the book and the pleasure of listening to such a great story. If you have listened to a narration by Edward Hermann, then you will be disappointed by this narrator. Sorry to be blunt.

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

When Benjamin Franklin was in the "Cockpit;" oh to be a fly on one of those walls and to have been able to witness his silent protest.

Any additional comments?

I believe Walter Isaacson to be one of the greatest biographers, but I think anyone who listens to this particular audiobook will agree that Mr. Runger is nowhere near the caliber of narrator for such a great book. If Mr. Isaacson had done anything less than a stupendous job with this book, I would have given up listening to Mr. Runger before Benjamin Franklin ran away from his brother's shop.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

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My kinda founding father...mostly...

This was a very good biography, which is something I've come to pleasingly expect when I start a Walter Isaacson work. My knowledge of Benjamin Franklin was limited to the near caricature of him taught in school back in my day, along with little bits and pieces from various documentaries I've watched during my adult life. I had no feeling for who the real person was behind the historical figure. Now, I believe I do, somewhat. Which, in itself reflects a good review of this book. Without going into too much of a summary of Benjamin Franklin himself, I think it's worth noting the light that the book shines on him. Ben Franklin was a practical man. A man who, when he saw a need, tried to find a practical solution to address that need. Whether it be protecting a house from bolts of lightning with his lightning rod, to helping design a constitution for a fledgling country whose states were in dire need of it. He believed in the middle class, and believed that excessive wealth, luxury, idleness and inheritable elitism was the root of much of the corruption in England at the time. He was a man who believed in religious tolerance, like many of the founding fathers, because religious dogma could be divisive, and not conducive democratic public discourse. He was a man who understood compromise and the need for it in a true democracy. Personally, he had vices like anyone else. He tended to enjoy spending time with his friends abroad better than his family back home. He often enjoyed the company various women throughout his life, to the dismay of some of his more puritanical political opponents. Contrary to many of his "Poor Richard" aphorisms, in his later years Franklin enjoyed late evenings with friends, wine, and chess. In the end, the book leaves you with the feeling that you may have known person behind the image a bit. He was a remarkable person, and this book is an excellent read for anyone interested in Benjamin Franklin, the man, and the historical figure.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Great read. Some areas disjointed, but solid bio.

Isaacson does a great job defining and realizing the character of Benjamin Franklin. You know him. You know him to the point where the last few chapters become predictive. Not the writing. But the last few chapters of Franklin's life.

Perhaps most astonishing is the way sheer mass of Franklin's legacy. It's written on the parchment of America's story in so many ways defining culture, government, philosophy, arts, finance, and even the sense of a self-deprecating comedic undertones to American Life.

Runger's reading was spot on. Especially the "character" voices he would use to go in and out of quoted text.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

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Good story; kinda hokey narration

While the folksy narrating did grow on me and I came to understand it's rationale after listening to more of the story of Franklin's persona as a folksy scientist philosopher, I found the narrating at times distracting. That being said, the importance of the full scope of Franklin's life and the fascinating course that it charted through the colonial to revolutionary period in the nascent United States and the seeds of change in Europe that he either sowed or witnessed, make his story one worth knowing. The story makes some excuses for his cold dismissal (and possible neglect) of his family and it is here, with those serious and grave topics that the folksy narration draws too stark a contrast between narration and content.

Overall, it's worth the time because this man's story is so integral to the story of the establishment of the American story. I hope another biographer will take Franklin to task (McCullough or Chernow)...

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Warring on the Performance

How did the narrator detract from the book?

The narrator must really love his peanut butter. If you are sensitive to disgusting mouth sounds, this book is not for you. The Audible-page sample audio is pretty clean and not so ??representative of the mind-numbing 24-plus hours. If you listen in the car or another noisy environment, you will be fine. Otherwise, be warned.??

39 of 46 people found this review helpful

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Great book, good enough reading, but poor sound editing

Loved the book! Walter Isaacson is thorough and balanced. Great history lesson as Benjamin Franklin was a big player in a the American Revolution.

The reader was good, most voices done well, but his Ben Franklin voice is annoying through the whole book. The sound editing is not good and you often hear the reader swallowing and other saliva noises. After 24 hours of these noises, you start to get annoyed.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Reader

I returned the book because the reader slurped swallowed in competition with the narrative. Content was great.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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An amazing life!

Ben Franklin left an indelible mark on our country. That much is taken for granted. Few, however, know just how much he did. This book should be required reading for diplomats in training and anybody else that wants to learn the art of the deal. Franklin was the first in so many categories that one cannot even begin to list them in a short review like this. Maybe though, one of his most important and enduring legacies would be religious tolerance, a new invention in the colonies at that time. I think that Mr. Isaacson did an impeccable job of bringing Franklin's legacy to life and I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • E. A.
  • New York State
  • 06-15-12

A Master of Biography

Walter Isaacson is a master of biography. Whether an historic subject or contemporary, he makes the individual come alive with all the traits and foibles of the subject. I have read biographies of Franklin but this one is so enjoyable that it was a delight to learn about this founding father again--and maybe even remember it this time since it was so well done. I not only learned the facts about Franklin, I got a real feel of the man. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in history and the life of a great man.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Kirstine
  • 12-29-13

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.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Maddy
  • 03-26-13

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

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  • Timothy Alonso
  • 12-28-16

An excellent account of Franklin's life

An excellent account of one of America's founding father's life.

An inspirational story of how much Franklin's pragmatic approach have achieved from his various inventions to his participation during the American revolution.

It was humbling to know how industrious the man was but couldn't help but be disappointed with how he treated his family, his wife especially.

This is a multi-layered account of a great man with curiosity ranging from many different subjects. It covered both positive and negative aspects of his life in a balanced and objective way.

This is definitely worth your time.

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  • Eoin Delahunty
  • 08-10-16

Underwhelming

I was underwhelmed by this. My expectations were pretty high having read Isaacsons bio of Steve Jobs. It dragged on and while I know more about Ben Franklin, I wasn't enthralled.

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  • Mrs
  • 11-19-14

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.

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  • Dean
  • 12-02-15

Benjamin Franklin

Fascinating. Enlightening. Compelling. Well worth the time. He invented bi-focal glasses - who would have thunk it!

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  • Ryan
  • 05-14-15

Great insight to an ingenius human

It is a very thorough account of Franklins life and contributions to the world. I was looking for an overview of his influence through invention and politics. This production covers those points in detail. It is amazing how many letters were recovered from events that took place over 300 years ago that were used as content.

There was too much time spent on his personal relationships for my liking, but I guess that is detail others may be seeking.

I now understand more about Ben Franklin and why many people admire his accomplishments.

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