The Barnes & Noble Review
In this engaging biography, journalist Walter Isaacson captures the gregarious essence of Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Father who has earned a special place in the pantheon of American patriots by dint of sheer approachability.
Brilliant but not intellectual, principled but not priggish, Franklin was an original thinker whose genius lay less in profound thoughts than in practical ideas and homely wisdom. As he rose in station from impoverished young printer's apprentice to venerable statesman and man of means, he hobnobbed with aristocrats, royals, and some of the greatest thinkers of the Enlightenment; but he never lost touch with the common man whose standard he carried proudly throughout his long, eventful life.
Franklin's glittering accomplishments -- the famous experiments and inventions, the stirring articles and treatises, and the shrewd diplomatic coups -- were fueled by pragmatism, entrepreneurial energy, and self-promotion, all solid middle-class values. Isaacson shows us how the enterprising young tradesman exaggerated (particularly in his writings) bourgeois virtues like industriousness, frugality, and honesty to create a new American archetype -- the self-made man -- and how this persona, which was both a reflection and a caricature of Franklin's natural self, worked both for and against him in his personal relationships.
What emerges from this lively study is the fascinating portrait of a flawed and complicated man: a canny charmer, a brilliant inventor, a gifted diplomat, and a public-spirited citizen, but most of all a passionate populist with an unwavering faith in the wisdom of his fellow citizens, whose vision of America shaped his own age and continues to influence our own. Anne Markowski