Benjamin Franklin's extraordinary and complex life as a printer, entrepreneur, postmaster and diplomat, among other activities had a profound effect on the development of the United States. As Walter Isaacson points out in his superb new biography, Benjamin Franklin: An American LifeKissinger: A Biography, brilliantly demonstrates a wide and insightful grasp of Franklin's life. Isaacson's Franklin is a charming genius and an imposing historical figure, but a man who left much to be desired for those closest to him. While he had, in Isaacson's words, a "genial affection for his wife," it didn't keep him from spending 15 years of their marriage an ocean apart. He and his son William had a close relationship, but it couldn't survive their difference of opinion over the Revolution.

Franklin's dislike of "everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people," as well as his longstanding opposition to arbitrary authority, made him a trusted figure for many colonists. In telling his story, Isaacson has crafted an impressive biography, a narrative that's balanced to give us a strong sense of the many aspects of its subject. His book deserves a wide readership.

 

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