It is a fact that Benjamin Franklin was one of the only founding fathers to actively participate in all aspects of designing The United States of America. He was intricately involved in the Albany Plan of Union, the Declaration of Independence, the treaty of alliance with France, the peace treaty with England and the Constitution. His inventions included the flexible urinary catheter, bifocals, the lightning rod, Daylight Savings Time, and the United States Post Office. Franklin was a genius who was constantly thinking of a plan. This biography highlights his accomplishments, but also details the man behind the inventions and negotiations.
It allows Benjamin Franklin to come off as a real person. It is written in a humble manner that allows the reader to respect Franklin for all aspects of his life, glamorous or not. Chapters One Through Three The first chapter of this biography discusses Benjamin Franklin’s arrival in Philadelphia at 17 years old. It also looks ahead briefly to an older Franklin and outlines his transformation through life. The chapter paints a friendly picture of Benjamin Franklin, outlining him as the “founding father who winks at us”. Isaacson clearly tries to get the reader to relate on a personal level to his subject.
He wants to paint an open person with human faults, unlike some biographers who tend to place their subjects on pedestals. The author quickly lists some of Franklin’s accomplishments, but goes on to state that his biggest invention was the reinvention of himself. He states Franklin wanted nothing more than to create an America based on the values of the middle class citizens. The author successfully presents Benjamin Franklin in a humble and appealing manner, however it almost masks his great accomplishments at the same time. The author also highlights Franklin’s family history.
He discusses Franklin’s great-grandfather Thomas Franklin and notes how he too was a rebel of some sort. Thomas Franklin kept an English Bible ties under a stool in his home when Queen Mary I outlawed them. The author does a fine job of outlining Benjamin Franklin’s heritage and his genetic ties to people who stand up for what they believe. The author goes on to state that all four generations of Franklins were similar to Thomas in that they were all likeable but they were also intelligent and non-conformists. They were all hard workers, and unlike many subjects of biographies, Benjamin Franklin was not born wealthy.
The last part of this group discusses how after Franklin ran away, he moved to London to continue his training as a printer in 1724. Chapters Four Through Seven In 1726, Franklin returned to Philadelphia. He had saved enough money during his stay in London to begin his own business. He married Deborah Read in 1730, not completely out of love. The author goes into detail on how Franklin thought it was necessary to marry Read in order to give William a mother. Read was more than willing to take the job, and so they married. Isaacson goes into explanations on how Franklin’s business pursuits and personal life connect.
He recalls facts such as Franklin’s successful acquisition of the Pennsylvania Gazette and his publishing of the annual Poor Richard: An Almanack. Personally, Franklin goes through years of births and deaths of those close to him. The births of William, Francis, and Sarah and the deaths of Francis, his mother Abiah and his father Josiah are also discussed. Some of the most interesting parts of the book are those where Franklin’s inventions and their history are discussed. It is interesting to realize that some of Franklin’s best ideas were not fabricated easily.
Isaacson is true to history as he tells of Franklin’s successes and failures. This applies with Franklin’s inventions but also in his personal and political life. Isaacson also does Franklin justice by mentioning his great contributions as a citizen to the state of Pennsylvania. His participation in the organization of the fire department, police department, the public library, the post office, and what later became the University of Pennsylvania are noted as well. Franklin basically set up the complete plan of what a functional town should look like.
Chapters Eight Through Eleven Benjamin Franklin spent several years traveling in London. He was a representative of the Pennsylvania Assembly. He was originally sent there to petition the king for tax levies. Isaacson does a nice job detailing the successes and failures of Franklin during this time. He shows the respect Franklin had as a negotiator and why he was sent on such important business. The book is true to life when Isaacson speaks of failures in Franklin’s career and personal life such as the ruin of his reputation for the Hutchinson Letters leak.
Isaacson also is articulate in explaining the negotiations involving Franklin that ultimately ended the American War of Independence. The personal inclusion of the death of Franklin’s wife, whom he live apart from for the last eighteen years of their marriage, brings the story back to a more intimate level as well. Chapters Twelve Through Fifteen Isaacson makes sure the reader is aware of the impact Franklin had on the writing of the Declaration of Independence. The organization of America was one of Franklin’s most important achievements.
The author does well in recording this meaningful accomplishment. Franklin traveled to France during this time in his life. The people of France came to love Franklin and respected him greatly. Isaacson showed no mercy in mentioning Franklin’s love of flirting with French women. He was a fantastic negotiator and Isaacson really attempts to capture the spell he had under the people of France as well as Louis XVI. He helped the French government draw up a treaty of commerce and defensive alliance. He was considered a hero there but he did not always feel like the hero he was thought to be.
The author does a great job of pointing out Franklin’s confident times as well as times he was a bit insecure. Chapters Sixteen Through Eighteen Three years before his death, Franklin was elected president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Slavery was an issue that had come close to his heart and even in his final months of life, he signed a petition to call for the end of slavery. He spent the last year of his life bedridden and died in Philadelphia on April 17, at the age of 84. Isaacson does a great job capturing the reader at the end of the story.
Reading about Franklin’s death is an emotional experience. Isaacson goes on to write more about Franklin’s legacy after his death. Overview It is clear that Isaacson set out to write a positive, but true biography. Although he does an adequate job of detailing even the most unpleasant aspect of Franklin’s life, you can tell within the first few chapters that he is on Franklin’s side. He develops a story of Franklin that appeals to the reader. Even after hearing what a less than average husband he was and his knack for self-promotion, the reader will most likely be forgiving due to the clever writing.
By the end of the long book, the reader is a fan of Franklin’s as well. The book does tend to drag in certain areas however. The content is full of history and accomplishments but it does not completely draw in the reader fully. There are many chapters in which a non-committed reader may put the book for good. Overall however, it is a true depiction of the Benjamin Franklin, the greatest inventor, negotiator, and citizen America may ever see. Bibliography Isaacson, Walter. 2003. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York.