Cover image for Franklin on Franklin
Franklin on Franklin
Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790.
Uniform Title:
Publication Information:
Lexington : University Press of Kentucky, [2000]

Physical Description:
315 pages ; 23 cm
General Note:
The first twenty-three chapters are based on Zall's recovery of Franklin's first draft of his autobiography, and the last six chapters are derived primarily from Franklin's correspondence and journals.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E302.6.F7 A2 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography ends in 1758, some thirty years before he died. Those three decades included some of the statesman's greatest triumphs, yet instead of including them in his memoir, Franklin spent the years continually revising his original text. Paul Zall has created a new autobiographical account of Franklin's entire life. By returning to a newly recovered early draft of the Autobiography, he strips away later layers of moralizing to reveal the story as Franklin first wrote it: how a poor boy from Boston used words and hard work to become America's first world-class citizen. To cover Franklin's career as a diplomat and as the only signatory of all three key documents of the American Revolution, Zall interweaves autobiographical comments from Franklin's personal letters and private journals. Franklin emerges as different from the common perception of him as a crafty "Man of Reason." His raw words reveal the bitter infighting among both British and American politicians and his personal struggle with his son's choice of the opposite side in the fight for the future of two countries. Without the veneer of second thoughts, his lifelong struggle to control his temper carries greater poignancy, as do his later years spent nursing his wounded pride. Susceptible to both fallibility and frustration, the honest Franklin depicted in his own words nevertheless remains an uncommon common man, perhaps even more so than previously thought.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

The effort of historians to assess Benjamin Franklin's life from youth to middle age has always been a difficult task. Most of the information for that period comes from Franklin's autobiography, and he was a notorious self-promoter. However, Zall, a research scholar at the Huntington Library, has utilized a newly recovered early draft of Franklin's autobiography. The result is a strikingly revealing, unvarnished portrait of one of our most beloved and seemingly benign Founding Fathers. Here we see Franklin as a man of driving ambition who is capable of great warmth, generosity, and insight. Yet, he could be amazingly petty, hypersensitive to perceived slights, and capable of nursing a grudge until it festered. Franklin's account ended in 1758; Zall rounds out the final three decades of Franklin's life with excerpts from his correspondence and diaries. As always, Franklin is a fascinating subject, and this work will be a valuable addition to our store of knowledge about him. --Jay Freeman

Library Journal Review

Like the author's previous book, Lincoln on Lincoln (Univ. Pr. of Kentucky, 2001), this recent volume contains various writings that delineate the former president's life and ideas. The first 23 chapters comprise the first draft of Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, which he revised over an 18-year period, but here Zall (research scholar, Huntington Library) strips away Franklin's later misgivings, cautious revisions, and other changes to reveal the document as it was originally composed. Zall covers the remaining 43 years of his subject's life in the last six chapters by reprinting letters and other documents. The many contradictions of Franklin's character are on prominent display throughout the volume. All the materials contained here are already available in heavily annotated scholarly editions, including some by Zall himself (e.g., Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography: Authoritative Texts, Backgrounds, Criticism, 1986, coedited with J.A. Leo Lemay). The present volume is aimed at general readers and does an excellent job of allowing Franklin's own words to reveal the major events and emotions in his life. Recommended for public libraries. T.J. Schaeper, St. Bonaventure Univ., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This edition of Franklin's renowned autobiography features Franklin's first draft from the original manuscript, edited by Zall, the co-editor of the authoritative genetic text of the autobiography. As such, it omits what Franklin added after the first version and differs where he changed its contents in later versions. For a student of Franklin, Franklin's changes and his possible motives for them can significantly affect the interpretation of his character. This edition is most helpful to Franklin scholars who are interested in comparing texts and the integrity of texts; it is not likely to attract first-time readers of the autobiography. Because Franklin's first version is elliptical, the editor usefully interpolates where ellipses can trouble the reader. This edition does not, however, provide annotations to explain archaic words, proper names, and obscure allusions. Zall argues that Franklin's successive revisions disclose a man who is less "cool, crafty" and in control--a fallible, frustrated, more authentic man, who, at his life's end, felt insufficiently appreciated for his public service. This edition and the comparison of texts make one of America's most fascinating men yet more fascinating. Graduate students and faculty. J. D. Marietta University of Arizona