Benjamin Franklin


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Benjamin Franklin by Edmund Morgan

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This is the paperback edition. The hardcover and large print hardcover editions are also available.

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Book Description

The greatest statesman of his age, Benjamin Franklin was also a pioneering scientist, a successful author, the first American postmaster general, a printer, a bon vivant. In addition, he was a man of vast contradictions. This best-selling biography by one of our greatest historians offers a compact and provocative new portrait of America's most extraordinary patriot.

From the Publisher
Chosen as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review and as a best book for 2002 by the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Washington Post Book World, and Publishers Weekly, A finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for biography, A New York Times Bestseller

About the Author

Edmund S. Morgan, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University, has written more than a dozen books. Cited as "one of America's most distinguished historians," he was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2000.

Back Cover

"Superb. . . . The best short biography of Franklin ever written. . . .[A] concise and beautifully written portrait of an American hero."-Gordon Wood, New York Review of Books; "While several previous biographies provide fuller accounts of Franklin's life, none rivals Morgan's study for its grasp of Franklin's character, its affinity not just for his ideas, but for the way his mind worked."-Joseph J. Ellis, London Review of Books; "Entrancing. . . . Lucid [and] entertaining."-Charles M. Carberry, USA Today; "In this engaging and readable book, Edmund S. Morgan . . . does more than recount the colorful and gripping story of Franklin's long, action- and idea-filled life; he also skillfully dissects the man's personality and mind, his social self and political beliefs. . . . Illuminating."-Susan Dunn, New York Times Book Review; "A luminous biography."-Louis P. Masur, Chicago Tribune Book Review; "It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find fault with this book."-Carol Berkin, New England Quarterly

Editorial Reviews

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Malcolm Jones, Newsweek
Excellent. . . . Sublime. . . . [An] illuminating portrait of a quintessential, and perennially contemporary, American spirit.

Jay Tolson, U.S. News and World Report
[An] excellent portrait . . . by the distinguished Yale historian Edmund Morgan.

Thomas Fleming, The New York Sun
Spellbinding, . . . beautifully written. . . . We come away from this superb book admiring Franklin in a new, more profound way. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Louis P. Masur, Chicago Times Book Review
A luminous biography, . . . the essence of a remarkable life. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

William F. Gavin, Washington Times
...[A] superb introduction to Franklin's...intellect, shrewdness, common-sense, good will, and...'innate affinity for people of all kinds. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs
...[C]oncise, excellent, and eminently readable...[A] book ...much like its hero: ...fluent,...engaging...self-effacing...[with] true breadth and scope. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

New York Times Book Review
An eminent historian portrays Franklin as a magnetic extrovert. . . . --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

(Joseph J. Ellis, London Review of Books)
. . . . [A] book that crowns [Morgan’s] career. . . . [No] previous biograph[y] rivals Morgan's study for its grasp of Franklin's character. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Josephine Pacheco, The Key Reporter (Phi Beta Kappa)
"Morgan . . . brings his skill and knowledge to a thoughtful and well-written biography of a great man." --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Jay Tolson, U.S. News and World Report
[An] excellent portrait . . . by the distinguished Yale historian Edmund Morgan. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly
This wonderful biography of an extraordinary man results from a perfect marriage of subject and scholar. Among the most senior of our senior historians, Yale professor emeritus Morgan (American Slavery, American Freedom, etc.) proves himself still at the height of his powers. While Franklin remains, as Morgan writes, elusive and hard to know because "it is so hard to distinguish his natural impulses from his principles," the author probably comes as close to understanding him as anyone can. Rather than focusing on Franklin's role as classic, representative American, Morgan instead gives us a portrait of his public life, almost a third of it spent abroad, in England and France, more than any comparable figure of his generation. In Morgan's hands, Franklin therefore turns out to be more cosmopolitan than provincial, more worldly than Pennsylvanian. He also shines in this biography as someone deeply committed to his fellow Americans and the nation they were creating. Many previous biographers have sought to explain how Franklin helped lay the foundations for a distinctive American mind and personality. Morgan instead takes us more into Franklin's thinking and activities as diplomat and politician and into the way his winning personality served his country so well at the moment it needed him. While suitably critical when Franklin deserves criticism, Morgan's bravura performance is nevertheless a buoyant appreciation of a man whose fame as aphorist in Poor Richard's Almanack and as the scientist who helped discover electricity have often obscured his devotion to the public good. It's hard to imagine a better life study of a man we've all heard about but who is barely known. 20 illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Through the simple admission that this biography is meant primarily to introduce Franklin to the general reading public, Morgan avoids the biographer's dilemma of choosing between a narrative focus or presenting a comprehensive history of a subject. He begins with an overview that seeks to educe Franklin's character through an examination of the principles and ideas of this early American Renaissance man as expressed across the board in the various parts of his life. Yet, it is not Franklin the Renaissance man, but rather Franklin the Founding Father of whom Morgan is writing, arguing persuasively that this was the role to which the statesman was most devoted. In telling this story, the author creates a vivid narrative, an adventure story of sorts, which grabs readers with the tale of his subject's part in the political developments of 18th-century America. Yet, the author never loses sight of the importance of the other aspects of the man's personality and the thoughts and actions of others toward him. This is the key to this biography's success: it engages readers' interest in the great drama of this fascinating man's life. Teens may well begin here, and have material enough, but this fascinating introduction could entice them to look further.
Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal
Morgan (Sterling Professor of History, emeritus, Yale), the award-winning author of numerous books, including Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America, here offers the best short biography of Franklin ever written. He is ideally suited to the task. For many years, he has chaired the administrative board that oversees the ongoing work on The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Yale Univ., 36 volumes to date), making this the first biography whose author can claim to have read virtually everything ever written by or to Franklin. Without denying Franklin's flaws, Morgan expresses affection and admiration for his subject throughout. He argues forcefully that Franklin's chief goal was to live a "useful" life, showing that Franklin held public service above his lucrative career as a printer and the fame he achieved as a scientist. Morgan deftly shows how Franklin's desire to serve the public good occasionally led him to support ideas at variance with his personal views. The chief virtue of this book is also its chief flaw. Morgan's almost exclusive reliance on Franklin's papers gives the reader an unparalleled glimpse into Franklin's mind. Yet by keeping the story so closely tied to Franklin, the author sometimes gives too little attention to other persons and to the general social and political context. Moreover, he never discusses how his views compare with those of others, such as David McCullough (John Adams) and H.W. Brands (The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin). Nevertheless, the general reader will find this book to be a well-written, thoughtful appreciation of one of the Founding Fathers who did the most to shape his era and our own. Highly recommended for all public libraries.
T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist
In getting to know Franklin, the author relied on two sources: his own erudition cultivated over a distinguished career as a historian (Morgan has won the most prestigious prizes for works of American history), and The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, a monumental project of scholarship still in progress. Morgan adopts a chronological approach from which he often departs for expansive discussions of Franklin's occupational arenas--printing, morals, science, politics, and diplomacy--through which Franklin expressed his attitude toward life. That one's attitude eventually evolves to a settled view is probably true of every person, but perhaps it is expressed in no one more interestingly than in Franklin. A youthful flirtation with a philosophy of amoralism, Morgan relates, matured to Franklin's fundamental precept that one's life must be useful and that one should not give in to passions that would impede one's value to friends, to knowledge, and to country. An astute appraisal of a Founder, Morgan's work is less than a biography but more than a character profile, and will be of interest to history buffs. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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