Thursday, July 03, 2008
4th of July reading - a Franklin bio
For your 4th of July reading, I recommend The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin by Gordon Wood. (I have not read Walter Isaacson’s Franklin bio, but do have it on my to-do list). I decided to tackle Wood’s Franklin bio after reading and enjoying his Revolutionary Characters and The Purpose of the Past . Wood goes beyond general narrative history and poses interesting questions; he tends to be conservative in his arguments and thoughtful in his analysis. In this bio Wood peels away the myth of Franklin as a self-made man, the father of Poor Richard’s folk wisdom, a capitalist hero from the working class, the most “American” of the founders, to reveal a very different Franklin. Wood’s Franklin is a man who succeeds with the help of sponsors, a man who is very much celebrated as an intellectual, a man more at home in Europe, both in England and France where he lived for long periods, than in America, and a man of wealth, a "gentleman" (with all that the term connoted in the 18th century), rather than a simple laborer. It is only 19th century and later America which created a different Franklin to meet the need for a hero more in concert with the image of America at that time. I ended up having a new appreciation for Franklin, as the "real" Franklin is more appealing in some ways that the myth. Read it and decide for yourself.