Cover image for Benjamin Franklin an American life
Title:
Benjamin Franklin an American life
Author:
Isaacson, Walter.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Simon & Schuster Audio, [2003]

℗2003
Physical Description:
6 audio discs (approximately 7 hrs.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
General Note:
Abridged.

Compact disc.
Language:
English
Added Author:
ISBN:
9780743533652
Format :
Audiobook on CD

Available:*

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Grand Island Library E302.6.F8 I832 2003C Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks
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City of Tonawanda Library E302.6.F8 I832 2003C Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks
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Clearfield Library E302.6.F8 I832 2003C Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks
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Clearfield Library E302.6.F8 I832 2003C Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks
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Clarence Library E302.6.F8 I832 2003C Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks
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Concord Library E302.6.F8 I832 2003C Adult Audiobook on CD Audiobooks
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Summary

Summary

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.
In bestselling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin turns to us from history's stage with eyes that twinkle from behind his new-fangled spectacles. In Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson shows how Franklin defines both his own time and ours.
The most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself. America's first great publicist, he was consciously trying to create a new American archetype. In the process, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public, and polished it for posterity. His guiding principle was a "dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people." Few of his fellow founders felt this comfort with democracy so fully, and none so intuitively.
In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin's amazing life, from his days as a runaway printer to his triumphs as a statesman, scientist, and Founding Father. He chronicles Franklin's tumultuous relationship with his illegitimate son and grandson, his practical marriage, and his flirtations with the ladies of Paris. He also shows how Franklin helped to create the American character and why he has a particular resonance in the twenty-first century.


Author Notes

Walter Isaacson was born on May 20, 1952 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He received a B. A. in history and literature from Harvard College. He then attended the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar at Pembroke College and read philosophy, politics, and economics.

He began his career in journalism at The Sunday Times of London and then the New Orleans Times-Picayune/States-Item. He joined TIME in 1978 and served as a political correspondent, national editor and editor of new media before becoming the magazine's editor in 1996. He became Chairman and CEO of CNN in 2001, and then president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in 2003.

He has written numerous books including American Sketches, Einstein: His Life and Universe, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, Kissinger: A Biography, Steve Jobs, and The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution. He is the co-author, with Evan Thomas, of The Wise Men: Six Friends and the World They Made.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and even Adams stare down at you from Mt. Olympus. But Benjamin Franklin has always seemed the most accessible of our Founding Fathers. He looks out benignly from our $100 bill. He dispenses grandfatherly wisdom spiced with humor from Poor 0 Richard's Almanac. Of course, Franklin was a complicated and interesting personality, as this book illustrates. Isaacson, formerly the CEO of CNN and managing editor of Time 0 magazine, is currently president of the Aspen Institute. He has written a chronological biography that pays due tribute to Franklin's genius while revealing his harder edges. Franklin was clearly driven and supremely ambitious. In serving his ambition, he could be manipulative and a shameless self-promoter. His personal and political loyalties often shifted, yet he never forgave the "betrayal" when his illegitimate son remained loyal to Britain. --Jay Freeman Copyright 2003 Booklist


Publisher's Weekly Review

Most people's mental image of Ben Franklin is that of an aged man with wire-rim glasses and a comb-over, flying a kite in a thunder storm, or of the spirited face that stares back from a one-hundred-dollar bill. Isaacson's (Kissinger) biography does much to remind us of Franklin's amazing depth and breadth. At once a scientist, craftsman, writer, publisher, comic, sage, ladies' man, statesman, diplomat and inventor, Franklin not only wore many hats, but in many cases, did not have an equal. The most intriguing thing he invented, and continued to reinvent, according to Isaacson, was himself. Three-time Tony winner Gaines has an obvious interest and affinity for the material. His delivery of Isaacson's factual yet fascinating biography is informative and friendly with an instructional yet casual tone, like that of a gregarious narrator of an educational film. All things considered, Gaines is a good match for the material. He has the authority to deliver historical facts and the enthusiasm to keep listeners interested. Simultaneous release with the Simon & Schuster hardcover (Forecasts, May 12). (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Most Americans know a bit about Franklin, therefore it's fascinating to get Isaacson's take on our eccentric forefather. The best biographies include less-than-flattering traits, and Isaacson does that to perfection. Franklin was a womanizer, had an illegitimate son, was disliked by Abigail Adams, and did electrical experiments during lightning storms. In his youth, he favored slavery, yet by the end of his life he was elected president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. He loved socializing and lively conversation, preferring the company of friends rather than family (he lived away from his common-law wife for 15 years). Narrator Nelson Runger splendidly re-creates early American accents; he adeptly handles the diverse quotes within the vast text, helping keep listeners on track. Both Isaacson and Runger should be lauded; a required purchase for all libraries.-Susan G. Baird, Chicago (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Choice Review

New biographies of Franklin are appearing as often as diet books, although the public has less obvious need of the former. This rendition is a birth-to-death work that treats the many sides of Franklin--printer, scientist, politician, diplomat, and family man--a formidable job. The author believes Franklin is the sort of person one would enjoy a beer with after work, and that is the Franklin one finds in this biography. Isaacson commends Franklin for his modeling of middle-class, bourgeois, public-spirited American character. The virtues shown here are the same ones found in Franklin's own autobiography: reasonableness, moderation, equanimity, practicality, and self-confidence. Isaacson does not doubt the success and the desirability of these virtues in the US. He has moderately researched the topic, reading Franklin's own writings and his other biographers, and writes engagingly; the book is a good choice for anyone who will enjoy only one biography of Franklin. But the biography uncovers almost nothing new about Franklin and broaches no new opinions about him. Isaacson read few collateral materials, mostly in manuscript, about Franklin or his times. This lack of in-depth work renders the author's sweeping judgments glib and of little interest to scholars. ^BSumming Up: Recommended. Public libraries, general collections, undergraduates. J. D. Marietta University of Arizona


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One: Benjamin Franklin and the Invention of America His arrival in Philadelphia is one of the most famous scenes in autobiographical literature: the bedraggled 17-year-old runaway, cheeky yet with a pretense of humility, straggling off the boat and buying three puffy rolls as he wanders up Market Street. But wait a minute. There's something more. Peel back a layer and we can see him as a 65-year-old wry observer, sitting in an English country house, writing this scene, pretending it's part of a letter to his son, an illegitimate son who has become a royal governor with aristocratic pretensions and needs to be reminded of his humble roots. A careful look at the manuscript peels back yet another layer. Inserted into the sentence about his pilgrim's progress up Market Street is a phrase, written in the margin, in which he notes that he passed by the house of his future wife, Deborah Read, and that "she, standing at the door, saw me and thought I made, as I certainly did, a most awkward ridiculous appearance." So here we have, in a brief paragraph, the multilayered character known so fondly to his author as Benjamin Franklin: as a young man, then seen through the eyes of his older self, and then through the memories later recounted by his wife. It's all topped off with the old man's deft little affirmation -- "as I certainly did" -- in which his self-deprecation barely cloaks the pride he felt regarding his remarkable rise in the world. Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us. George Washington's colleagues found it hard to imagine touching the austere general on the shoulder, and we would find it even more so today. Jefferson and Adams are just as intimidating. But Ben Franklin, that ambitious urban entrepreneur, seems made of flesh rather than of marble, addressable by nickname, and he turns to us from history's stage with eyes that twinkle from behind those newfangled spectacles. He speaks to us, through his letters and hoaxes and autobiography, not with orotund rhetoric but with a chattiness and clever irony that is very contemporary, sometimes unnervingly so. We see his reflection in our own time. He was, during his eighty-four-year-long life, America's best scientist, inventor, diplomat, writer, and business strategist, and he was also one of its most practical, though not most profound, political thinkers. He proved by flying a kite that lightning was electricity, and he invented a rod to tame it. He devised bifocal glasses and clean-burning stoves, charts of the Gulf Stream and theories about the contagious nature of the common cold. He launched various civic improvement schemes, such as a lending library, college, volunteer fire corps, insurance association, and matching grant fund-raiser. He helped invent America's unique style of homespun humor and philosophical pragmatism. In foreign policy, he created an approach that wove together idealism with balance-of-power realism. And in politics, he proposed seminal plans for uniting the colonies and creating a federal model for a national government. But the most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself. America's first great publicist, he was, in his life and in his writings, consciously trying to create a new American archetype. In the process, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public, and polished it for posterity. Partly, it was a matter of image. As a young printer in Philadelphia, he carted rolls of paper through the streets to give the appearance of being industrious. As an old diplomat in France, he wore a fur cap to portray the role of backwoods sage. In between, he created an image for himself as a simple yet striving tradesman, assiduously honing the virtues -- diligence, frugality, honesty -- of a good shopkeeper and beneficent member of his community. But the image he created was rooted in reality. Born and bred a member of the leather-aproned class, Franklin was, at least for most of his life, more comfortable with artisans and thinkers than with the established elite, and he was allergic to the pomp and perks of a hereditary aristocracy. Throughout his life he would refer to himself as "B. Franklin, printer." From these attitudes sprang what may be Franklin's most important vision: an American national identity based on the virtues and values of its middle class. Instinctively more comfortable with democracy than were some of his fellow founders, and devoid of the snobbery that later critics would feel toward his own shopkeeping values, he had faith in the wisdom of the common man and felt that a new nation would draw its strength from what he called "the middling people." Through his self-improvement tips for cultivating personal virtues and his civic-improvement schemes for furthering the common good, he helped to create, and to celebrate, a new ruling class of ordinary citizens. The complex interplay among various facets of Franklin's character -- his ingenuity and unreflective wisdom, his Protestant ethic divorced from dogma, the principles he held firm and those he was willing to compromise -- means that each new look at him reflects and refracts the nation's changing values. He has been vilified in romantic periods and lionized in entrepreneurial ones. Each era appraises him anew, and in doing so reveals some assessments of itself. Franklin has a particular resonance in twenty-first-century America. A successful publisher and consummate networker with an inventive curiosity, he would have felt right at home in the information revolution, and his unabashed striving to be part of an upwardly mobile meritocracy made him, in social critic David Brooks's phrase, "our founding Yuppie." We can easily imagine having a beer with him after work, showing him how to use the latest digital device, sharing the business plan for a new venture, and discussing the most recent political scandals or policy ideas. He would laugh at the latest joke about a priest and a rabbi, or about a farmer's daughter. We would admire both his earnestness and his self-aware irony. And we would relate to the way he tried to balance, sometimes uneasily, the pursuit of reputation, wealth, earthly virtues, and spiritual values. Some who see the reflection of Franklin in the world today fret about a shallowness of soul and a spiritual complacency that seem to permeate a culture of materialism. They say that he teaches us how to live a practical and pecuniary life, but not an exalted existence. Others see the same reflection and admire the basic middle-class values and democratic sentiments that now seem under assault from elitists, radicals, reactionaries, and other bashers of the bourgeoisie. They regard Franklin as an exemplar of the personal character and civic virtue that are too often missing in modern America. Much of the admiration is warranted, and so too are some of the qualms. But the lessons from Franklin's life are more complex than those usually drawn by either his fans or his foes. Both sides too often confuse him with the striving pilgrim he portrayed in his autobiography. They mistake his genial moral maxims for the fundamental faiths that motivated his actions. His morality was built on a sincere belief in leading a virtuous life, serving the country he loved, and hoping to achieve salvation through good works. That led him to make the link between private virtue and civic virtue, and to suspect, based on the meager evidence he could muster about God's will, that these earthly virtues were linked to heavenly ones as well. As he put it in the motto for the library he founded, "To pour forth benefits for the common good is divine." In comparison to contemporaries such as Jonathan Edwards, who believed that men were sinners in the hands of an angry God and that salvation could come through grace alone, this outlook might seem somewhat complacent. In some ways it was, but it was also genuine. Whatever view one takes, it is useful to engage anew with Franklin, for in doing so we are grappling with a fundamental issue: How does one live a life that is useful, virtuous, worthy, moral, and spiritually meaningful? For that matter, which of these attributes is most important? These are questions just as vital for a self-satisfied age as they were for a revolutionary one. Copyright © 2003 by Walter Isaacson Excerpted from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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