I had been wanting to read a good biography on Benjamin Franklin (and some of the other founding fathers) for a fair amount of time. While I am very interested in American history, especially the story of it’s founding, so far I have found the books on the subject to be very dry. I start them, put them down, and then forget them. But, Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson is very different from any I have tried before. Isaacson’s work is a breath of fresh air. The former editor of Time Magazine brings a journalistic flair to what could have been a dry topic. Rather than a lifeless tome written by a tired old professor, this is a biography that is full of energy and passion.
So, lets start with a little outline of the book. Isaacson begins with the story of Franklin’s arrival in Philadelphia, but then goes back and gives a full account of his life. We learn about the Franklin family’s migration to America, Franklin’s growing up and apprenticeship as a printer; we see his success as a businessman, politician and philosopher; we meet his family and friends, and hear of his role in the intrigue between America and Britain, the revolutionary war, and eventual creation of a new nation. Along the way we are introduced to a very interesting and complicated man. A man powered into history by curiosity, intelligence, determination, and a clear sense of purpose. One, who (at least in Isaacson’s opinion) defines the very essence of the American dream.
In short, Isaacson’s portrayal of Franklin is both detailed and accessible at the same time. It is not only intricate and sophisticated, but very readable. Isaacson is someone who obviously loves history, and that love shines throughout the book. It is that rare nonfiction book; hugely detailed and a page turner. I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone who likes to read. You don’t have to be that enamored by biographies, Benjamin Franklin or American history to enjoy this book. But you probably will be once you finish it.