The first American : the life and times of Benjamin Franklin

by H. W. Brands

Paper Book, 2002




New York : Anchor Books, 2002.


The first major biography of Benjamin Franklin in more than sixty years, The First American is history on a grand scale -- a work of meticulous scholarship and a thoroughly engaging portrait of the foremost American of his day. Diplomat, scientist, philosopher, businessman, inventor, wit, and bon vivant, Benjamin Franklin was in every respect America's first Renaissance man. The eighteenth-century genius comes to life in this masterwork by acclaimed historian H.W. Brands, whose access to previously unpublished letters and a host of other sources makes this the definitive biography. A much-needed reminder of Franklin's greatness and humanity, The First American provides a magnificent tour of a legendary historical figure, the countless arenas in which the protean Franklin left his legacy, and a pivotal era in American life.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member CritEER
- 2001 Honorable Mention Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award (recognizes books of exceptional merit written on the Revolutionary War era)
- Franklin is the most remarkable American ever...from a child runway to a success business man, world famous scientist, inventor, philosopher, and American
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- The book highlights BF personal shortcomings...attraction to females of low intrigue, his relationship with his son, long separation from his wife
- I love the cast of characters in this book with individuals from France, England and of course early America Patriots
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LibraryThing member SDiMeglio
Brands does an excellent job of bringing the many accomplishments of this fascinating genius to light, many of which were new to me. One example: using a bottle, a string, a cork and a thermometer, he found that you find the most time-saving navigational route to cross the Atlantic by measuring the
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temperature of the water. Going to Europe, stay in the warm water of the jet stream and ride the current. Going to the US, stay in the cold water and avoid it. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book.
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LibraryThing member BAP1012
Very detailed life of Franklin. Although a slow read at times, it was full of wonderful information that helped me better understand this American legend.
LibraryThing member GShuk
Great audio that helps me understand both Benjamin Franklin and the times he grew up in.
LibraryThing member Jarratt
I don't typically read biographies, but was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable and readable this book is. Granted, there were many passages I had to read over several times, but this was primarily due to the language Franklin used. I most enjoyed his early years and those that were specific to
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the Revolution and the creation of our Constitution. If you're looking for a Founding Father to learn more about, there's probably none better than Franklin, "The First American."
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LibraryThing member MatthewFrend
A rebel, an architect of society, an enlightened spokesperson... thank God for Benjamin Franklin.
LibraryThing member JBGUSA
I thought the book was excellent. The only reason I gave it four rather than five stars was length, but then again, he had a long and highly varied life. The book took us from Boston to Philadelphia to London, back to America, to Paris and then back home.

The book covered his philandering and less
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than ideal characteristics as a husband. To its credit it doesn't overdo these faults. While certainly not a hagiography it paints a picture of a vital, pivotal person. Further, it well describes the era, and puts Franklin's work in the context of other events.

Overall, when I think of the Founders these people were "off the charts" in terms of drive and intelligence. I am not sure we can pick whether John or Abigail Adams, Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson or Aaron Burr were "the most" important. They were a pantheon; all were needed. Thus, I could perhaps have used fewer cheap shots at John Adams. But that's a quibble.

Excellent read.
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LibraryThing member tuckerresearch
Brands is an excellent and lucid writer. He explains the life and the times in an engaging and easy-to-understand manner. His life of Franklin, well-trod ground, is among the best one volume biographies of Franklin from the past few decades. A few things keep this from being THE best. The endnote
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system that popular presses seem to favor today. Demerit. The sparse nature of the notes. Demerit. The utter lack of illustrations and maps, which are numerous and easily had. I found myself consulting Isaacson's biography of Franklin for pictures. Demerit.

Franklin's hands were all over the growth of the colonies and the American Revolution. His fingerprints are on American culture, American business, American science, American letters, American banking, American independence, and American government. His exertions helped secure Independence, French aid in the Revolution, and the Constitution. His presence is still felt. He is, as some wag put it, the Founding GRANDFATHER.

All-in-all, a good, interesting, factual biography of Franklin. Get it if you can.

4.5 of 5 stars.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
Reason read: Benjamin Franklin was born in January. Read in his honor.

Any book you pick up by H.W. Brands is going to be entertaining. Never dry or boring, in First American, Brands not only brings his subject of Benjamin Franklin to living and breathing life, but also the era in which Franklin
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lived. Society, religion, politics, and the arts are vividly presented to the reader as the backdrop to Franklin's life. For example, details like explaining how apprentices were not allowed to visit taverns, inns, or alehouses served to give insight into Franklin's future beliefs. As a young man, he could not play cards, dice, or even enter into marriage. Franklin was essentially slaves with pay.
Brands also brings to light what an interesting man Benjamin Franklin became in his older years. His range of interests, his need for self-improvement, his contradictory beliefs, and his ambitions were nothing short of astounding. His goals and resolutions surrounding virtue and the way he went about trying to master his them were admirable for all mankind. Everyone knows the story of the silk kite and key, but who remembers Franklin deciding that Philadelphia needed more academia to teach the subjects that were useful to the youth? His quest for vegetarianism? His ability to change his mind about slavery?
With Franklin's use of aliases (Silence Dogood, Martha Careful, Caelia Shortface, and Polly Baker to name a few), I wonder what Franklin would have thought about our ability to hide behind user names and criticize our fellow man for everything from the color of her skin to the way our neighbor mows the lawn.
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Pulitzer Prize (Finalist — 2001)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Biography — 2000)
Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award (honorable mention — 2001)



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