Walter Isaacson’s look into the life of Benjamin Franklin explores the usual well known highlights but dips into other, lesser known areas of the great man’s life. From his first steps into Philadelphia when he was a poor, bedraggled young man, to his inventions, writings, and printshop, all the way to the dinner tables of kings, Franklin lived a remarkable life. His contributions to science, public policy, and the founding of our country are widely known, but here, Isaacson highlights how Franklin provided the foundation for much of the down home, folksy Americana that persists today. His writings (urging us to be frugal, considerate, humble, sincere, and hardworking), his attire (coonskin cap and beaver coat), and the enduring practicality that reinforced every aspect of his life did much to form outsiders’ impressions of Americans for generations.
The Franklin we see here may be different than others you have encountered. I was surprised by Franklin’s frequent battles with the Pitt family (the founders and predominant landholders in Pennsylvania during that time), his relatively slow evolution to rebel and patriot, and his curious indifference to his wife and daughter, whom he more or less abandoned for a life of travel and diplomacy. Isaacson gives a very balanced picture of this man, contrasting his solid common sense with his puzzling indifference to the health, welfare, and feelings of his wife and daughter, with usually an ocean between them. It is well documented that Franklin enjoyed the close friendship and company of many lady friends abroad, but, for reasons that are mostly lost to history, chose to keep his distance from his female relations for the majority of his adult life.
This journey is both deep and long, so probably only for the most avid of Franklin fans, but still a different take on a well studied Founding Father.
Amazon link is here.