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Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

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3.98  ·  Rating details ·  90,628 Ratings  ·  1,647 Reviews
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, he seems made of flesh rather than of marble. In bestselling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin seems to turn to us from history's stage with eyes ...more
Paperback, 586 pages
Published June 2004 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2003)
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Dylan
Aug 27, 2007 rated it really liked it
If Alexander Hamilton is one of the most underappreciated of the Founders then Benjamin Franklin is one of the most misunderstood. Isaacson ends his book with a concluding chapter that details this misundestanding. Throughout history each generation has taken a new look at Benjamin Franklin. As the author points out, Thoreau mocked him, Carnegie adored him and D.H. Lawrence despised him. So who was right, and why?

Isaacson, while pointing out his faults and follies, does not hide his own admirat
...more
Jason Koivu
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
An excellent start-to-finish biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life begins by touching on his childhood as best as it can considering the lack of material to work with. After that, Isaacson takes the reader through a more detailed account of Franklin's early entrepreneurial life, through his many inventions, and into his later statesmen days. I was struck by the author's well-balanced hand for both time, achievements, personal and professional details, and philosophical and political ide ...more
Chrissie
Dec 01, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: Laura
ETA: I decided to change this to four stars since I enjoyed the author's Einstein even more, and I gave that four.

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Why do YOU want to pick up a book about Benjamin Franklin? If you want his biographical details you need not even read a book, just check out Wikipedia. I wanted more. I wanted to understand his soul. I wanted to get under his skin. I wanted all the historical details in Wikipedia and more. I got what I wanted. Benjamin was an amazing person; people have only a
...more
Luís C.
A so-called Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin is among the most influential figures of his time, whose scientific discoveries and philosophical and business ideas reverberate around the world. It is also a flesh and blood man who was instrumental in the development of what is now the most powerful nation in the world.
Writer, scientist, inventor, diplomat and journalist.
Isaacson shows how this incredible life beyond their own time, and how the collaboration of Franklin in d
...more
T-bone
Dec 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
The only time this book caught my attention was when I fell asleep reading it in bed and dropped it on my face. I stopped reading before I hurt myself further. This fascinating insight on page 82 was the last straw, "For the last 17 years of Deborah's life, Franklin would be away, including when she died. Nevertheless, their mutual affection, respect, and loyalty - and their sense of partnership - would endure."
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: American History Buffs
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Ultimate Reading List - Biography
This was a pleasure and just the kind of biography I find trustworthy. The kind that acknowledges other views and controversies and with extensive notes and sources in the back. More than that, it's the rare biography that can inspire smiles and even giggles--I'd mark this up to five stars if I could credit Isaacson for that--but the source of the humor is the frequent quotes from Benjamin Franklin himself. Isaacson said in his introduction that "Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who wink ...more
Matt
Jul 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
Seeking to continue my trek to better understand the birth of America and its Founding Fathers, I tackled Walter Isaacson's biography of Benjamin Franklin. The book offers not only a great examination of the man, but also a wonderful set of vignettes related to all the activities Franklin undertook in his life. This most eclectic of men, the fifth generation of the youngest son of the youngest son, dazzled many he met and Isaacson's presentation surely will pull in many readers as well. In Isaac ...more
Laura
Jan 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Isaacson did a fair and balanced job, describing the man without whitewashing over his flaws. By the end, I felt like Franklin was mine, like he somehow belonged to me. I knew he would be an interesting person, but I had no idea how much this man did with his life. Nor did I understand just how involved he was before there was any US at all. We could still be a British colony without him - or even a French one! Something else I never learned in school, France's involvement.

Th
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Dan
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An excellent biography of America's greatest statesman. As told in this litany by Isaacson, it was astonishing to learn that so many principles of our government and constitution are in whole or in part Franklin's ideas or were ideas that Franklin advocated for. I would say that the second half of this book, Franklin as the elder statesman, was as perfect a biography as I have read.
Suzanne
Apr 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a throroughly entertaining, well-researched, well-written biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson. It is lengthy (over 600 pages) and one feels obligated to read the footnotes because they further the work. The first third of the book moved quickly (childhood, moving to Philadelphia, beginning life as a printer, Poor Richard's Almanac). The middle third bogs down (life in England and France, the beginning of the Revolution) and the final third picks up (back in France, negotiat ...more
Jerome
Jul 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Biographies generally bore me, and this was no exception.

So pedestrian, so conventional, so obviously a poor rehashing of much better Franklin biographies that preceded this one. One wonders why Isaacson even bothered to write the book. Money, perhaps? Whatever his motivation, the result is underwhelming.

One of the difficulties with biography is that you already know most of the plot, and you probably know how it ends too. To create a sense of suspense and excitement, you need to need to do two
...more
Jimmy
Jan 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
An abridged audio tape. America was so lucky to have men like Benjamin Franklin to start us off. I read his Autobiography as a high school student, and it inspired me to be a better person. I may read it again now.

When I look at today's "conservative" movement, I am ashamed of it. It is truly a disgrace to our country. They could do well to study the lives of men like Franklin who worked hard to better himself but also to help others. He believed in good governance, in helping the poor, and--Oh
...more
Margaretann
Aug 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Went to the King Tut exhibit in 2007 and was equally impressed by the Ben Franklin museum - where the exhibit was shown in PA. Loved this book; learned so much - maybe I'm a nerd but it was a page turner that I looked forward to each day!
Michael Finocchiaro
I swear I didn’t know he would be Job’s biographer when I purchased this book. I purchased it after reading the Einstein biography by Mr. Isaacson several months ago. This biography is on par with that one. Insightful and complete, we get an good appreciation for this mythical patriot of American values. Now, the one misgiving I have is that Mr. Isaacson preaches to these so-called American values on nearly every other paragraph. His point, of course, is that Ben Franklin was so instrumental in ...more
Sue
Mar 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
A few years ago, I had a chance to visit the Franklin museum in Philadelphia. I was stunned by the diversity of Franklin’s contributions to the new nation and to science. The all too popular image is of a bald man flying a kite under dangerous conditions, while spouting cheerful advice about thrifty and efficient living. I resolved then to learn a bit more. Besides, I am a sucker for historical biographies.

The chapters on the early years felt plodding. Perhaps there is too little actually known
...more
Ahn Mur
Oct 31, 2017 rated it liked it
This took a while. Not that the two have a whole lot in common, but the sheer size of it reminded me of War and Peace; it felt like it was too long until after I finished it, wherein I could appreciate that the length itself was a necessary medium for expressing the shocking length of Franklin's life. Though 85 is not altogether abnormally old, Franklin's life was subjectively twice that, full and productive as it was.
The final chapter was especially important in conveying the overall takeaways
...more
Chantal
Apr 23, 2008 rated it liked it
This book gave me a much broader perspective on Benjamin Franklin. I had read his autobiography in junior high and loved it. I determined that he was the genre of person I would have enjoyed as a friend. The man thinks like me in many respects. I adopted some of his ideas because they fit me.

While I admired him, this book painted a more thorough picture of who he was, flaws and all. Now that I am an adult, it seemed appropriate to see the fuller picture of this character I thought so highly of.
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Sean
Oct 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Franklin was way ahead of his time both in thought and in action. From building a media conglomerate to retiring at 42 and becoming a scientist to seeing what the British did to the Irish and not wanting that same fate for America to traveling to France in his 70's with gout to convince France to fund the American Revolution to fighting against his own son in that war --- it was quite a life.

Highlights:

In a witty newspaper piece called “On Conversation,” which he wrote shortly after forming the
...more
Dan
Jan 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoy providing background in my reviews of how I’ve acquired or read a book, because I believe it helps to paint a picture of my tastes, desires, and it might even give you more information about me. In other words, maybe the books I read act as my own autobiography. I bought this highly anticipated book only a short time after getting a new job as a store manager with FranklinCovey. Having made good friends with the store manager of the Waldenbooks store down the hall from my old store, I sp ...more
David Highton
A totally comprehensive biography of Franklin, the eldest of the Founding Fathers, and how he pulled himself up from being a printer's apprentice to a merchant, diplomat, politician and scientist. Isaacson presents a very rounded portrayal of his character in this impressive work. A man who liked family and friends around him, yet was in England for 15 of the last 17 years of his marriage while his wife remained and died in Philadelphia. I had not realised the extent of his fame in the latter pa ...more
Brad Feld
Jan 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Ben Franklin is one of my heroes, along with Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and a few others. As I start my march through reading books about American presidents, I figured I’d start with a famous American who was never a president but was deeply involved in creating the situation where there could be American presidents.
I’m a big fan of Walter Isaacson and his biographies (I’ve read many of them.) Benjamin Franklin: An American Life didn’t disappoint. Isaacson is great at making a biography
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Esmerelda Weatherwax
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
I had a problem paying attention to history in high school, and even in college. I did passably well and forgot 90% of what I learned. I was way more focused on biology and astronomy and thought history was boring. As a result, whenever history comes up in conversation I feel way out of the loop and it's a tad embarrassing.

I've been trying to rectify this by reading biographies and I thought it would be like pulling teeth, but it's been delightfully entertaining - I was not expecting that.

This
...more
Joe
May 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Isaacson is getting a lot of attention and reading right now for his Steve Jobs biography and there is some symmetry in his biography of Franklin, surely the Steve Jobs of his day, (a comparison favorable to Jobs, for sure.)

Isaacson does a great job in placing Franklin in his startling historical context. Ben Franklin is old! He is so old when he was born we even reckoned time by a different calendar - the Julian instead of the Gregorian. He was a contemporary of such old-timey Puritan giants as
...more
Marsinay
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
*4.5 stars
Completely charmed and thoroughly smitten.
Nate Cooley
Feb 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Probably the best biographical source on Benjamin Franklin is straight fron the horses mouth . . . his Autobiography. However, Isaacson's book is definitely an engaging read and fairly exhaustive.


My initial impression is that the author is careful in not falling into the a trap that so many biographers often do, in that they deify their protagonist. Isaacson takes an objective approach to Franklin and enumerates his many flaws (or at least what most would perceive as flaws when attributed to on
...more
Pete daPixie
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biogs, history-u-s
Comprehensively researched and well balanced biography, in very similar territory as McCullough's highly recommended treatise on John Adams. Isaacson's 'Benjamin Franklin-An American Life', published 2003, captures the extraordinary and many faceted eighty four year life of this founding father. A caricature that would be instantly recognisable in The Simpsons, this biography paints a vivid portrait of the man, his times, family, morals, scientific enquiry and political journey.
I have long wishe
...more
Sara
Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Americans, scientists, business people, history buffs
Shelves: biography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brian Willis
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Readers searching for a readable, engaging, and page turning account of the least patrician of the Founding Fathers can search here for a very fun read through the life of Franklin. Filled with his aphorisms and wisdom, but never glossing past his failings (his family life was very complicated to say the least), this book covers all of the great accomplishments: his publications, his entrepreneurship, his innovations, his diplomacy, his statesmanship, and finally his hidden hand behind many of t ...more
Kate Carlisle
Dec 27, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I learned so many interesting things about Franklin from reading this book, and about the early days of our country. For example, for a long time, Franklin didn't want America to declare independence. He tried very diligently to get England to change its behavior toward the colonies, and only when all those efforts failed did he become a revolutionary. What an incredible thing, to declare independence and create a country from scratch! Really enjoyed the book and the insights.
Carl R.
May 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Walter Isaacson’s 2003 Ben Franklin An American Life makes a wonderful complement to the 1938 Pulitzer Prize winning Benjamin Franklin by Carl Van Doren. Van Doren’s book is dense and exhaustive and admiring of both the man and his work. Isaacson is thorough as well, but more readable, and more critical, especially of Franklin’s personal life. It’s been several years since I read the Van Doren book, and I don’t plan to go back for a point-by-point analysis, but if you want to read just one, I’d ...more
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Walter Isaacson, the CEO of the Aspen Institute, has been chairman of CNN and the managing editor of "Time" magazine. He is the author of "Steve Jobs"; "Einstein: His Life and Universe"; "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life"; and "Kissinger: A Biography," and the coauthor of "The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made." He lives in Washington, DC.
“Knowledge, he realized, “was obtained rather by the use of the ear than of the tongue.” 10 likes
“When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him.” 4 likes
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