Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, edited by Page Talbott, is a grand volume, a glorious tribute to a man to whom America owes much. Talbott, chief curator of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary traveling exhibition (to tour across America, eventually arriving like the man in Paris), has compiled a wonderful collection of informative essays and fascinating images, a worthy literary companion to the exhibit in her charge.

Every aspect of Benjamin Franklin's extraordinary life is explored in 10 probing and beautiful essays, rich with their contributors' fine historical and social perspective. The text is enhanced with nearly 300 photos and reproductions of artifacts and art (many of which have never before been on public display) from Franklin's times, his home and his printing press. Memorably moving is a photograph of the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, which bears evidence of Franklin's legendary edits.

The contributors, all prominent scholars (two of them currently work with the Library Company of Philadelphia, the literary lending institution founded by Franklin), thoughtfully and realistically examine the daily life, travails, business activities and public and private exploits of this often wily, but virtuous man.

Especially intriguing are the writings on Franklin's domestic life, his sojourn as a diplomat in France, and one essayist's ruminations on him as slave owner and dubious abolitionist.

Though Franklin is viewed by some historians as a reluctant revolutionary who sought to avoid colonial conflict with Britain, this book reveals the admirable, but not always successful, pragmatic efforts consistently applied by Franklin to his endeavors, and poses the idea that his vision remains unfulfilled, itself a challenge to Americans who still search for a better world.

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