Americanization of Benjamin Franklin (Playaway Adult Nonfiction) Preloaded Digital Audio Player – 1 Mar 2010
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"There has been a surprising surge of books about Benjamin Franklin recently, all attempting to tell the story of his remarkable life. Now Gordon Wood, the leading historian of the revolutionary era, brings his considerable erudition to the conversation, giving us a different story about Franklin's double life as a man and an American symbol."
[Wood] possesses as profound a grasp of the early days of the Republic as anyone now working... ("The New York Times Book Review") I cannot remember ever reading a work of history and biography that is quite so fluent, so perfectly composed and balanced... ("The New York Sun") [Gordon Wood] conveys complex ideas in beguilingly simple prose, and deftly weaves the connections between the different Franklins. (John Brewer, "The New York Review of Books") Exceptionally rich perspective on one of the most accomplished, complex, and unpredictable Americans of his own time or any other. ("The Washington Post Book World") An illuminating, accessible and entertaining contribution to the growing literature about Benjamin Franklin. ("San Francisco Chronicle ")
"[Wood] possesses as profound a grasp of the early days of the Republic as anyone now working..." The New York Times Book Review
"I cannot remember ever reading a work of history and biography that is quite so fluent, so perfectly composed and balanced..." The New York Sun
"[Gordon Wood] conveys complex ideas in beguilingly simple prose, and deftly weaves the connections between the different Franklins." John Brewer, The New York Review of Books
"Exceptionally rich perspective on one of the most accomplished, complex, and unpredictable Americans of his own time or any other." The Washington Post Book World
"An illuminating, accessible and entertaining contribution to the growing literature about Benjamin Franklin." San Francisco Chronicle" --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
Gordon S. Wood is the Alva O. Way University Professor and professor of history at Brown University. His 1969 bookThe Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787received the Bancroft and John H. Dunning prizes, and was nominated for the National Book Award. His 1992 bookThe Radicalism of the American Revolution, won the Pulitzer Prize and the Emerson Prize. His 2009 bookEmpire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, won the 2010 New York Historical Society Prize in American History. Wood's other books includeRevolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, andmost recently, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States, and hecontributes regularly toThe New RepublicandThe New York Review of Books." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
THE BEST 5 BIOGRAPHIES ARE (in order of publication date)
Edmund S. Morgan's Benjamin Franklin (Yale Nota Bene S.)
H. W. Brands's The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin
Walter Isaacson's Benjamin Franklin: An American Life
Gordon S. Wood's The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin
Jerry Weinberger's Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On the Unity of His Moral, Religious, and Political Thought (American Political Thought)
The first 4 of these biographies are presented as in the typical historically (and chronologically) biographical approach. There are 24 pictures in Morgan's book, no pictures in Brands's book, 32 pictures in Isaacson's book, 25 pictures in Wood's book, and no pictures in Weinberger's book.
I am not going to write about how great Franklin was or what he did (he was great and he did so much). I want to write primarily about how each of these authors portrays Franklin's character differently by highlighting different aspects of his life.
Wood's biography of Franklin presents the thesis that Franklin had to be "Americanized" in the sense that despite his humble roots, Franklin became enamored with the aristocratic attitudes of the Royalists of Britain and Franklin had to become dejected and disillusioned from his Loyalist affections. Yet, Wood describes a Franklin who never fully became the middle class citizen his legend would bear. In fact, James Madison recorded Franklin presented a speech and was quoted saying that there was "a natural inclination in mankind to kingly government."
Although Weinberger argued that he "unmasked" Franklin as a "radical skeptic," and Isaacson argued that "Above, all Franklin's beliefs were driven by pragmatism," Wood instead decides to not conclude anything for sure. Wood says, "Franklin is never revealing of himself...we sense that he was always in control and was showing us what he wanted us to see" (pg. 13). After a tentative conclusion that Franklin "loved turning conventional wisdom on its head," Wood qualifies his statement adding, "But then again are we sure that he is not putting us on?" (pg. 15). Even towards the book's end, Wood is reserved in his declarations: "Franklin leaves us with a very morally ambiguous message" (pg. 206).
Brands assessment of may be most like Wood's. Brands is unsure or at least unwilling to detail relationship between Franklin-as-skeptic and Franklin-as-pragmatist (see Brands, pg. 94-95). Woods, like Morgan, Brands, and Isaacson, believed that Franklin thought that public service was the acme of human activity. For these historians, Franklin reiterates Aristotle that man is by nature a political animal (Greek - "zoon politikon"). Wood summarizes, "He came to realize that science and philosophy could never take the place of service in government" (pg. 66). Unlike for Aristotle, according to Wood and the rest of the historians, philosophy and the contemplative life, takes a back seat to real politick (Weinberger's thesis on Franklin as a "radical skeptic" might disagree with this conclusion but he doesn't pursue this argument directly).
Wood presents Franklin as a political animal caught up in the radical change of political ideology that America helped usher in. This is coextensive with Wood's thesis in his other book, "The Radicalism of the American Revolution." Franklin is presented as trying to juggle some of his tendencies to have both the Royalist view and the American-style-Republicanism view while making an overall shift towards "Americanization." Indeed, Wood cites Morgan's biography as making the crucial mistake of not seeing Franklin juggle and shift in this manner. In a footnote responding to Morgan, Wood writes, "Once we accept the fact that Franklin in these years was a fervent royalist...much of the surprise, confusion, and mystery about his behavior in the early 1760s falls away" (pg. 262 footnote 81). Weinberger agrees that Franklin was a serious Royalist at a time, but for Weinberger, Franklin's fundamental thought on politics are in continuity despite what Wood argues.
of our nation's history.
Wood begins by stating that Franklin has come to symbolize the Horatio Alger, pull yourself up by the bootstaps lad who through hard work, clean living, frugality and dedication makes a success of himself. Franklin was a hard worker who was born the 15th of 17 children to a Boston soapmaker in 1706. He left Boston for Philadelphia at the age of 17.
In the City of Brotherly Love he became a famous printer and newspaper editor. He was also a tireless social reformer organizing the local militia, volunteer fire department, free public library, creating the idea of matching funds and founding the American Phil. Society. Franklin also served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Pa. winning the attention of wealthy patrons who aided him in his career climb to the top. Franklin retired in his late 40s. He spent much of his life in London and Paris. Until the 1770's when he opposed the Stamp Act he was pro-British calling for colonial obedience to the crown. He served as the Royal assistant postmaster for the entire American colonies but was fired in 1774 following his support of the American rebellion.
Franklin was an expert on electricity who developed the lightening rod and also invented bifocal glasses and the famous Franklin stove. He was an avid swimmer enjoying long walks and sitting with friends in the "Juno society" discussing intellectual and community concerns. BF was the printer for several colonial legislative bodies and served with success in the Penn. government. Folloiwng the American Revolution he served three terms as President of Pennsylvania. Though only attending school for two years he was awarded honorary doctorates by Yale and Oxford among other institutions of higher learning. He was our first ambassador to France and the greatest diplomat in American history. Due to BF's efforts the French government gave support to the fledgling United States in commercial treaties and as an ally against England in the American Revolution.
Franklin was a genius, a wit and and the most famous, learned and traveled American citizen of the eighteenth century. Wood ranks him second only to George Washington in the pantheon of Revolutionary War heroes.
Franklin was not cute and cuddly but a pragmatist with an astute mind who understood human nature. He spoke several languages and read widely in many fields. He was a Deist who doubted the deity of Christ though he thought religion good for the moral uplift of the public. His family life was complicated. He lived with Deborah Read his common law wife who gave him a son Franky who died young and a daughter Sally. He was not close to her and lived aborad for several years while she kept house in Philadelphia. His illegitimate son William by an unknown paramour was a Loyalist who was imprisoned by the Americans. He had been the Royal Governor of New Jersey. BF and William had their love aborted over their political disagreements. BF was close to Temple Franklin the son of William.
Franklin was ambitious and could be vain. He was not happy with the way he was treated by Congress following the Revolution claiming he needed reimbursement for his time on diplomatic work abroad in France. He did not like puritanical John Adams. Some in America thought he was too pro-British but he was an arch patriot of the new American republic. Franklin was a Renaissance man and a great American statesman, inventor, publisher and printer.
Gordon Wood's short book was named a Notable Book in 2004 by the New York Review of Books. It is the best book I have read on Franklin and deserves to be on your bookshelf. A great book about a great American! Bravo Ben!
Wood makes clear that Franklin always wanted to be an English gentleman serving King and Empire. Franklin cherished the thought that he was accepted as one in London as much as in Philadelphia. And he was ecstatic when powerful lords gave him the idea that he might be appointed undersecretary for American affairs.
It is conceivable that had this happened Franklin, elevated to this great station, might have negotiated an evolution of affairs that would have made the Atlantic truly a pond within the English Empire.
Of course, it didn't happen. Franklin was not appointed; his ambitious hopes, crushed. Furthermore, he was humiliated by the very members of that Great Club he so wanted to join. He had allowed himself to be fooled by an illusion.
But spinning illusions can be a dangerous pastime. Instead of bowing in abject humility to the lords, Franklin is said to have whispered into the ear of his principal antagonist: "I will make your master a little king for this." And so he did.
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.