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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Highbridge Company; Unabridged edition (24 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565118863
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565118867
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 1.3 x 0.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 3,776,253 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Benjamin Franklin has a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Lawrance M. Bernabo HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on 9 Jun 2004
Format: Hardcover
"The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin" is not a traditional biography of the Founding Father's remarkable life but a more selective study of specific aspects of his life as they relate to his enduring popular image. Wood's purpose is to recover the historic Franklin who has been replaced my a series of images and representations over the past two hundred years as he came to be known as "the first American."
The grand irony is that before he personified being "American" to all of Western civilization, Franklin was the most British of the colonists; Wood argues that Franklin's emotional commitment to the vision of a pan-British world was rivaled only by that of William Pitt the Elder. That is important for understanding how a man who would sign his name to the Declaration of Independence was, two decades earlier, beseeching the King of England to make Pennsylvania a Crown colony. It was not just because of antipathy for the Penn family, but because Franklin believed whole-heartedly in the beneficence of the British monarchy. However, when it became clear that he was not going to be considered truly British--and if Dr. Franklin could not be accorded that right then clearly no Colonial ever would--that Franklin embraced the idea of being something else. In that regard he was similar to George Washington, whose chief ambition was to be a serving British officer and who was treated with even greater disdain by those he aspired to be like.
Wood makes his case by tracing Franklin's evolution through five key stages.
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Format: Hardcover
With America celebrating the tricentennary of Benjamin Franklin's birth this year a veritable flood of books have been published seeking to understand this fascinating figure. This book is the best of the bunch. While not a standard biography, Gordon Wood offers a penetrating analysis of Franklin by approaching Franklin's life through five transformations that he underwent: from his humble roots to become a man of means, from that to his enthusiasm for empire and from there to his adoption of the Patriot cause, then from there to his transformation into a diplomat and ultimately an American icon.
Wood's goal in adopiting this approach is to strip away the stereotypes and mythology that have accumulated around Franklin, and in this he succeedes admiably. The Franklin he reveals is a man who was very much of his time, one who succeeded through patronage, who strove for acceptance as a gentleman, and who was as subject to pride and vanity as the next person. Moreover, as a good imperialist living in London in the 1760s, he was out of touch with sentiment in the colonies. As a result, Franklin was almost left behind in the move towards independence, and he spent much of the Revolution coping with the mistrust of Patriots who doubted the loyalty of someone who had been such a proud subject of George III.
Well written and persuasively argued, Wood's book is an excellent study of this legendary figure. Readers seeking the details of Franklin's life would do well to turn to Carl van Doren’s classic biography or Esmond Wright's more recent 'Franklin of Philadelphia', but for a truly insightful understanding of the historical Franklin this is the book to read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 51 reviews
75 of 77 people found the following review helpful
Won't the Real Ben Franklin Please Stand Up? 12 Aug 2004
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
As one who has always been passionate about early American history, I must confess that untill reading Dr. Wood's fine character study, I have not read any books devoted to Benjamin Franklin. Like many others, then, I came to this book imbued by the vision of Franklin that sees him first and foremost as the self-made business person that authored "Poor Richard's Almanac," and the "Autobiography." My vision of Franklin was of the champion of pulling onesself up by one's bootstraps, temperance, and frugality.

Dr. Wood's intention with this book is not so much to dispel this vision - Franklin was indeed those things - as to augment it by filling in those lesser known bits of Franklin's life. While he was the self-made business man and champion of industry, he was also a man who, from there, forayed into the life of a gentleman of leisure and loved every minute of it. While he was a passionate American revolutionary, he was, before all that, a man who passionately believed in the British Empire and worked tirelessly to reconcile American and British inerests. While he was a man who was eventually loved by posterity as a true and exemplary American, he was, during his lifetime, just as often mistrusted and even scorned by fellow Americans.

Dr. Wood, then, has written not so much a biography as a character study that works to explain (a) how Benjamin Franklin morphed into all of these multifarious roles, (b) how, remarkably, he was successful at all of them (well, all but one; you'll see!), and (c) how it wasn't untill after his death that Franklin's early life as a business-person was focused on almost to exclusion of all else, in essence, transforming his image to that of the quintessential American.

Dr. Wood, in all of this, has created a thrilling and very educational book that 'gets into Franklin's head' as well as I imagine any book could. Throught it all, Dr. Wood remains somewhat neutral and defferential as to the character of Franklin, neither denouncing or overly praising him. Rather, he gives us the facts, tells the story, uses enough enthusiasm and warmth to convey the excitement that was Franklin's life, but never resorts to too much by way of polemic. Those expecting either a laudatory cheerleading or a denunciatory expose of Franklin will not find what they are looking for here. Those who simply want a good, robust and erudite, character studty will.
33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Gordon Wood recovers the historic Benjamin Franklin 27 May 2004
By Lawrance M. Bernabo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin" is not a traditional biography of the Founding Father's remarkable life but a more selective study of specific aspects of his life as they relate to his enduring popular image. Wood's purpose is to recover the historic Franklin who has been replaced my a series of images and representations over the past two hundred years as he came to be known as "the first American."
The grand irony is that before he personified being "American" to all of Western civilization, Franklin was the most British of the colonists; Wood argues that Franklin's emotional commitment to the vision of a pan-British world was rivaled only by that of William Pitt the Elder. That is important for understanding how a man who would sign his name to the Declaration of Independence was, two decades earlier, beseeching the King of England to make Pennsylvania a Crown colony. It was not just because of antipathy for the Penn family, but because Franklin believed whole-heartedly in the beneficence of the British monarchy. However, when it became clear that he was not going to be considered truly British--and if Dr. Franklin could not be accorded that right then clearly no Colonial ever would--that Franklin embraced the idea of being something else. In that regard he was similar to George Washington, whose chief ambition was to be a serving British officer and who was treated with even greater disdain by those he aspired to be like.
Wood makes his case by tracing Franklin's evolution through five key stages. We begin with his early ambition of "Becoming a Gentleman," which shows that Franklin raised above his humble beginnings and trade as a printer not only through his own enterprise but through the patronage of wealthy and influential men, challenging the purity of his rags to riches story. "Becoming a British Imperialist" covers how Franklin the gentleman had time to become the scientist who would be known throughout the Empire and the continent as Dr. Franklin. These first two chapters are the most interesting because they representing the early Franklin who has been obscured by the Franklin the Founding Father.
That is the Franklin developed in the last three chapters. "Becoming a Patriot" begins with the Stamp Act and Franklin's reaction to it, tracing the series of events that forced him to the cause of revolution after a last attempt to save the Empire in which he believed. By the time Franklin returns to the United States and begins the stage of "Becoming a Diplomat," he has become too American in England and too English in America, so it is not surprising that it is the French for whom he becomes "the symbolic American." "Becoming an American," Woods final chapter, covers Franklin's return to America, and his death. What followed was not only his apotheosis, as the greatest American president never to be president to use one common phrase, but also the deification of Franklin as the self-made businessman. In the end Wood wants to comment on the Myth of American Nationhood, and my one disappointment in the book is that he does not spend more time on the changes in Franklin's popular image following his death; I was expecting there to be an entire chapter devoted to that as well, although Wood does point out the bits and pieces of key elements as he goes along.
Gordon Wood is a Professor of History at Brown University and one of the foremost national scholars on the American Revolution. In 1991 his book, "The Radicalism of the American Revolution," won the Pulitzer Prize and is considered one of the definitive works on the social, political, and economic consequences of the Revolutionary War. The book essentially argues how the American Revolution transformed a society that was essentially feudal (think about it) into a democratic society that actually confounded and disappointed the Founding Fathers. Of course what most Americans know about Gordon Wood is that he has written about the pre-Revolutionary utopia and the capital forming effects of military mobilization and that Vickers believes that Wood drastically underestimates the impact of social distinctions predicated upon wealth, especially inherited wealth ("Work in Essex County", page 98, right?).
"The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin" is the sort of history case study of which I am most interested at this point. I already know the basic biography of Franklin and in recent years the only new bit that I have really picked up was that both he and Jefferson spoke atrocious French and that Franklin was apparently unaware of it (or used it to his advantage in his "American" persona while in Paris). Wood's starting point is actually today, the image of Franklin in the popular mind, and then going back and showing not only how this image came to be but also how it diverges from the historical record. This image of Franklin is not "true," but it is "real," and Wood's volume does not expose its falsity as much as it explains why in looking backwards different generations of Americans have seen Franklin through the eyes of their own times. Most of the illustrations in the volume consist of portraits of Franklin, done after he became a gentleman, and which provide visual evidence of his transformations; certainly there are few figures in American history whose lives are so aptly captured in such a fashion.
In reminding us that Franklin was not simply a British colonist but also a most loyal subject to the crown who say in the American colonies the potential for expanding the greatness and glory of the British empire, Wood emphasizes the radical transformation that turned Franklin into a zealous patriot. It is hard for us to think of Franklin as anything other than an American, but there is great value in remembering the times in which they both lived and him within that context as well as appreciating his legacy today.
33 of 34 people found the following review helpful
BF's legacy saved by his Autobiography and Poor Richard 29 Nov 2004
By The Spinozanator - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book reads like a novel and is difficult to put down. The author tries to get into BF's mind - not a simple task. While Wood doesn't leave out BF's failures, it is easy to be overwhelmed with how talented this man was. Although his whole life is reviewed, I would like to cover in this review something only hinted at in the last chapter.

When BF was in his young to middle-aged working life, he created, among other things, Poor Richard's Almanac. This was first published in 1733 - full of common sense, admonitions to industry and frugality, and homespun proverbs. His last edition was in 1758, reprinted separately as "The Way To Wealth," and attributed to a "Father Abraham."

Later, when BF was in a rare depression following a political failure in England, a friend convinced him he owed it to the public to write an autobiography. He began the first installment as advice to his son, William, and wrote additional entries over a number of years.

BF loved Europe, and they loved him. His work in electricity in his early 40's earned him an international reputation, complete with multiple honorary degrees. Perhaps because he spent so much time abroad, perhaps because his political enemies set the tone, he was not as appreciated in his home country. Interestingly, he made it back for the writing of the both the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution 11 years later.

After BF died, he was virtually ignored in America, while France proclaimed 3 days of mourning and made him a national hero. This contrast is more than striking. There were many signers to the Declaration of Independence, yet only a few of them stand out in America as household names. The rest of them have varied lesser legacies, with perhaps only short encyclopedia entries.

BF's legacy would possibly have shared that fate, had it not been for his writings, particularly his Autobiography and Poor Richard's Almanac. Vitally important to the popularity of BF's writings were the changes that were occuring in American society, lessening the mindless esteem of the seemingly non-working upper class, and celebrating the working man. Perhaps his books helped to expedite these changes.

In the early 1800's these two books became standard issue for those working men who aspired to get ahead in America. "The Way To Wealth" alone had over a hundred editions in over a dozen languages. His "list of virtues" comprised 13 traits, each one to be concentrated on for a week at a time. At the end of thirteen weeks, they would all have been practiced once, so one starts over. At the end of a year, each virtue would have been rehearsed for four weeks. BF admitted in writing the difficulties he personally experienced while trying to be virtuous, but maintained there was virtue in attempting perfection. One of his famous statement concerns his difficulty conquering vanity. He wrote that in trying to keep his vanity under control during "humility" week, he found himself succumbing to proudness for having achieved so much humbleness (or something like that).

In 1836, a copy of BF's Autobiography was amongst Davy Crockett's few possessions found at the Alamo. This excellent book about one of my heroes, though relatively short, captures BF's exemplary abilities and a few human weaknesses. I give it my highest recommendation.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Deceptively Simple 7 Sep 2005
By Bart Breen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
You'd expect this book to get high marks, by virtue of the Author and his past credentials. What is remarkable is how compact and easy to comprehend it is, given that source and his prior accolades.

The premise is simple. Franklin has been perceived to a mythological degree by those who see him as the historical icon of his age. Therefore, what is in order here is a piercing of that veil to show Franklin as a man, with the all too human qualities that are lost in the more popular contrived persona.

Wood does just that in a manner that allows us to see Franklin with all the flaws and foibles that are otherwise missed.

The success of this book is that rather than tearing away the legend of Franklin, there is an explanation as to how that persona grew and why it grew. We see Franklin as the man of his age who rose from obscurity to a self-made "gentleman" to a leading diplomat of his age revered in Europe to a degree unmatched in America until after his death.

It's not necessarily designed to de-mystify Franklin. Franklin still comes off as the important figure he is. We see Franklin the inattentive husband, the doting and then injured father and the grandfather seemingly determined to atone for past sins. We see his interactions with other Founders, whom ironically attest to his complete translation to the Gentleman he aspires to be and subsequently takes the slings and arrows specifically reserved for that class by those who despise it and/or secretly covet for themselves.

This book is well written enough that it will become indespensible to any true student of Franklin or colonial times, but it also reads easily enough that the typical high school student can read it with profit.

Really, to dispel such mythology it has to be this way. Aiming for the upper eschelons only serves to keep this knowledge within its own little Ivory Tower cabal. Here it does the most good. You can't dispel such a myth without aiming at the foundation.

This one is a keeper and worth buying for future reference.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
(Re)constructing Franklin 8 Jun 2004
By Z. Weir - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In the last few years, a number of thorough revisionist biographies have been published, which take Revolutionary Period luminaries and political players as their subjects, meeting with both public and critical success. Take for example David McCullough's John Adams, Joseph Ellis's Founding Brothers and Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton, not to mention Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin: An American Life: each of these works have contributed to the recent trend in American historical studies to reexamine the American Revolution and its key players from a contemporary historical perspective. Into this mix, Gordon Wood-noted historian of the American Revolution and Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Radicalism of the American Revolution-has released his latest work The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin.
So, why do we need another biography of Franklin? Gordon Wood's answer: we don't. The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin represents little effort on behalf of its author to attempt to provide or refashion a definitive portrait of Franklin's life from self-made printer to world-renown writer, philosopher, scientist and diplomat. Wood's study does not set out to present a new or profoundly nuanced interpretation of Benjamin Franklin the man, but rather dissects the many-layered and convoluted construction of Benjamin Franklin the American symbol, the character of the communal American cultural imagination.
As Wood argues and carefully documents, Franklin's reputation-as canonized during the progressive times of the early 19th century and arguably extending to the present day-did not result from the mutual respect of and commendation from fellow members of the Revolutionary generation. Quite to the contrary, the Benjamin Franklin known to contemporary Americans-the industrious inventor, the master of the aphorism and clever turn of phrase, the self-made and quintessential "American" citizen-appears in Wood's work as a posthumous construction quite at odds with the Franklin so painstakingly working to protect his reputation after returning from his years abroad as a diplomat to both Great Britain and France. Wood, however, digs through the rhetoric of both Franklin's most venomous opponents and his most fervent and loyal supporters to uncover and unravel Franklin's precarious position during and after the Revolutionary War. In the course of doing so, Wood demonstrates that the "Americanization" of Benjamin Franklin owed more to his enduring international reputation, particularly in France, and to the popularity of his Autobiography, which necessarily put forward an image that Franklin himself would endorse.
Though Wood does present a rather thorough account of Franklin's life and achievements before and leading up to the American Revolution, the strength of The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin rests in its depth and analysis of Franklin's participation in the formation of the young American nation. Benjamin Franklin, as his contemporaries perceived him, remained an inscrutable and potentially dangerous emissary for American affairs. Probing letters, official statements and popular press accounts, Wood reconstructs the case both for and against such an interpretation. In effect, Wood understatedly performs an archeological investigation into the factors that most directly influenced the formation of an American popular identity and national work ethos embodied by Franklin, the results of which combine erudite intellectual inquiry with good American storytelling.
This type of historical study, in contrast to the more generalized biographical project, provides Wood the space to reflect upon a specific aspect of Franklin's life in a manner that exceeds the limitations of a more comprehensive survey of the statesman's markedly important and influential achievements and accolades. After reading The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, perhaps most significantly the reader comes away with not only a genuine empathy for Franklin, but also the recognition that, in the book's writing, his wit and candor have found a worthy foil in Wood's able hands.
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