Friday, 20 January 2012

Benjamin Franklin: His Life as He Wrote It (Folio Society)

Benjamin Franklin requires no introduction to American readers of this blog, his part in helping to establish the United States of America as an independent nation is very well documented. Here in England Franklin is, sadly, not a historical figure we learn about in school which is why I have decided to read about him as an adult.

To say Franklin was extraordinary is something of an understatement. I don’t have room to list all the things he achieved in his lifetime but he was a noted polymath who was a printer, author, Politician, scientist, ambassador, postmaster, musician, inventor and statesmen. He founded the first lending library in America, created the first Fire Department in the state of Pennsylvania and helped found the first university there too. He was at the centre of talks and negotiations between Britain and America regarding the future of the colonies. Franklin was present at the most pivotal moments in early American history signing both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution
For the most part the book was very interesting. As an autobiography it gives the reader a unique opportunity to get into the mind-set of one of the greatest figures in history and read about his thoughts and feelings however the book is not written or laid out as memoirs per se. For the most part they are a collection of letters written by Franklin to numerous different correspondents, some family others politicians, friends or businessmen. As I didn’t know much about Franklin to begin with the meaning of some of the letters was lost to me. The only thing to assist in putting the letters in context was a short paragraph from the editor explaining the background, sometimes this wasn’t sufficient. I feel reading a biography about Franklin first then moving onto his autobiography would have been more sensible but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Some of the most interesting aspects of the book were reading about America (these days a political, military and economic powerhouse) as little more than a British colony beset with problems varying from citizen riots to the French threatening to invade. It was surreal reading Benjamin Franklin describing himself as British and the complex, headache-inducing political background for the eventual split from Britain.

If you know your American history well and have learnt about Benjamin Franklin before this would be a very good book to read however if you know little or nothing about him I suggest reading a Biography first then moving onto this.

Final verdict 3/5

By Chris

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