donelle's book blog

book reviews on books I've read

A Comparison of Biographies of Benjamin Franklin

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Time recently hailed the late Edmund S. Morgan as having written the best biography of Benjamin Franklin, I believe that it really depends on what you’re looking for. Undoubtedly, Morgan’s 2002 work provides us with the most thorough analysis of Franklin’s life. He describes Franklin, who was born in Boston, as first a Pennsylvanian, then a British American, and finally an American. Franklin didn’t give up on being a citizen of the British empire until he was 79 years old when he realized that Britain would never give Americans their rights. Morgan considers Franklin’s contributions to science, especially electricity, and his inventions, such as the Franklin stove and Franklin type, his contributions to Pennsylvania via the Junto, such as his lending library, and his work as a statesman. Franklin was a  secretary of state of sorts when he represented several of the colonies in England, and he served as ambassador to France during the critical phases of the Revolutionary War.

Walter Isaacson’s biography, published in 2003, however, highlights Franklin’s life in greater detail through anecdotes. Whereas Morgan summarizes time lapses in Franklin’s life, Isaacson provides a chronological approach. He describes Franklin as predominately a middle class American, though he does reference the Morgan work by stating that this concept evolved for Franklin. Undeniably, the Isaacson biography is approximately 500 pages, while Morgan’s is a 300-page book. I, however, agree with Morgan himself, who upon reviewing the Isaacson work commented, “The result is a complete picture of an extraordinary human being and the company he kept.”


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This entry was posted on July 30, 2013 by in Uncategorized.


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