Benjamin Franklin

Edmund S. Morgan

View Inside Price: $20.00

August 11, 2003
352 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
24 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300101621

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“The best short biography of Franklin ever written.”—Gordon S. Wood

Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the most remarkable figure in American history: the greatest statesman of his age, he played a pivotal role in the formation of the American republic. He was also a pioneering scientist, a bestselling author, the country’s first postmaster general, a printer, a bon vivant, a diplomat, a ladies’ man, and a moralist—and the most prominent celebrity of the eighteenth century.

Franklin was, however, a man of vast contradictions, as Edmund Morgan demonstrates in this brilliant biography. A reluctant revolutionary, Franklin had desperately wished to preserve the British Empire, and he mourned the break even as he led the fight for American independence. Despite his passion for science, Franklin viewed his groundbreaking experiments as secondary to his civic duties. And although he helped to draft both the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, he had personally hoped that the new American government would take a different shape. Unraveling the enigma of Franklin’s character, Morgan shows that he was the rare individual who consistently placed the public interest before his own desires.

Written by one of our greatest historians, Benjamin Franklin offers a provocative portrait of America’s most extraordinary patriot.

Edmund S. Morgan is Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University. He has written more than a dozen books including Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America, which won the Bancroft Prize, and American Slavery, American Freedom, which won the Francis Parkman Prize and the Albert J. Beveridge Award. Cited as “one of America’s most distinguished historians,” Morgan was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2000.

A main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and an alternate selection of the History Book Club and the Military Book Club

“The best short biography of Franklin ever written.”—Gordon Wood, Brown University

“A wise and brilliant study.”—Robert Middlekauff, University of California, Berkeley

"Compelling, instructional and, on occasion, inspiring. . . . It is obvious that Morgan has done his homework and that he has written this book as Franklin would have wanted it written: brief, to the point and ultimately, telling."—Blue Ridge Business Journal (Roanoke, VA) 

"Edmund Morgan is arguably the finest living American historian."—Books & Culture

"A sprightly, readable, reflective, and fairly short (314 pages) quasibiography."—David Mehegan, Boston Globe

"So much has been written about Benjamin Franklin in the 212 years since his death that you might imagine there’s nothing left to say. But there always is. Now comes another biography of the man, a fairly short one, and in my opinion it’s one of the best."—Max Hall, Boston Globe

“In the latest biography of the great man, which last summer topped the New York Times bestseller list, Edmund Morgan paints a fascinating portrait of a true titan, a hugely energetic figure whose life influenced countless other lives and touched every part of his century.”—Paula Adamick, Canada Post

"For those who want an entertaining, witty, succinct, and well-rounded account that captures Franklin’s essential character, look no further than Morgan. . . . Morgan’s biography is a book well worth reading."—Mark G. Spencer, Canadian Review of Books

"[An] elegant, intellectual biography."—Henry L. Carrigan Jr., Charlotte Observer

"An elegant intellectual biography of a man who made a tremendous mark on America."—Polly Paddock, Charlotte Observer

"Benjamin Franklin, himself a prolific writer of exceptional grace and vigor, would surely be delighted with Edmund S. Morgan’s sparkling biography. . . . The book . . . is a joy to read. Like a brisk, sprightly conversation, it is spiced with perceptive observations and wit that Franklin would have relished."—Dudley R. Herschbach, Chemical & Engineering News

"Morgan . . . packs a lot of meat into this relatively short biography. . . . But you will be hard pressed to find a better introduction to a great man."—Dolores and Roger Flaherty, Chicago Sun-Times

“A luminous biography.”—Louis P. Masur, Chicago Tribune Book Review

"Morgan has read his way through all of Franklin’s work . . . and he has distilled from those thousands of pages the essence of a remarkable life. . . . The key for a writer is to be exhaustive in the research but focused in the telling. Fortunately, Edmund Morgan has managed the task. The result is a luminous biography that provides ’a letter of introduction to a man worth knowing, worth spending time with’. . . . In the clarity of his prose, Morgan is not unlike his subject. . . . Morgan’s book succeeds on many levels, but none more so than as a political biography that allows us to see Franklin as someone ’who serves a changing public and himself plays a large role in changing and defining that public even as he changes and defines himself in the process. . . . To appreciate Franklin’s role as an architect of the United States, one need only read Morgan’s account of Franklin’s efforts to secure for the new nation loans and recognition from France."—Louis P. Masur, Chicago Tribune Book Review

"An essential work for anyone with an interest in Franklin, the American Revolution, or the art of biography. . . . Essential. All public and academic libraries."—Choice

"Morgan’s history is a sorely needed, brief, modern biography."—Tony Williams, Columbus (OH) Dispatch

"[Morgan] give[s] a feeling of closeness to a man whose primary goal was to be useful. Few, if any, have been as useful to America."—Bob Trimble, Dallas Morning News

"Splendid. . . . One of the most appealing facets of the book is its strong but down-to-earth narrative style. Morgan writes in a reader-friendly conversational manner that eludes most scholars."—Dennis Lythgoe, Deseret News

"Morgan, one of the greatest living authorities on colonial America, has written a concise, excellent, and eminently readable biography. . . . Morgan has written a book very much like its hero: so fluent, so engaging, and so self-effacing that one only gradually realizes its true breadth and scope. . . . In conveying to modern readers the natural geniality of Franklin’s character, Morgan succeeds also in casting new light on the social atmosphere and political ideas of the emerging American nation."—Walter Russell Mead, Foreign Affairs

"A quiet, wise and revealing perspective on that man many of us thought we knew well."—Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

"Whatever the extent of the reader’s familiarity with Franklin, one can turn to Edmund S. Morgan’s recently published shorter biography."—Matthew Stevenson, Harper’s Magazine

“Morgan does a superb job of treating Franklin’s role as a revolutionary and founding father. . . . A fine piece of historical writing by a distinguished historian. . . . Highly recommended and a must-read for Franklin enthusiasts.”—David T. Morgan, Historian

"An admirable effort. . . . [A] tight, focused book. Morgan helps us see a truly great man who throughout his life shouldered the ’responsibility of usefulness.’"—Lee Cearnal, Houston Chronicle

"[Morgan] has used the voluminous writings left by Franklin to create a compelling picture of the great American polymath. . . . Morgan presents Franklin as Franklin would himself like to have been presented. . . . Morgan does capture much of the essence of Franklina and shows why alone of colonial Americans he still captures our attention."—Trevor Burnard, Journal of American Studies

“Morgan’s account is based almost exclusively on its subject’s massive collection of writings, but Franklin was diversified enough to satisfy most readers. An excellent portrayal of a patriot’s style and substance.”—Kirkus Reviews

"The best short biography of Franklin ever written. He is ideally suited to the task. . . . The first biography whose author can claim to have read virtually everything ever written by or to Franklin. Without denying Franklin’s flaws, Morgan expresses affection and admiration for his subject throughout. . . . A well-written, thoughtful appreciation of one of the Founding Fathers who did the most to shape his era and our own. Highly recommended for all public libraries."—Library Journal (starred review)

"Morgan . . . has produced a book that crowns his career. While several previous biographies provide fuller accounts of Franklin’s life, none rivals Morgan’s study for its grasp of Franklin’s character, its affinity not just for his ideas, but for the way his mind worked."—Joseph J. Ellis, London Review of Books

“This year publishers are flooding bookstores with works lamenting how U.S. political and business leaders of the 1990s lost sight of the ideals on which the United States was founded. One new book, however, rises above the wistfulness and recreates that original vision. [This book] breathes new life into core American values.”—Los Angeles Times

"For an introduction to the mind of Franklin—one of the most inquisitive, productive and engaging minds of his or any other day—readers can’t do better than this incisive volume."—H.W. Brands, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Morgan’s broad humanism, gentle wit, and continuing curiosity all mirror those of his subject. As with Benjamin Franklin, we are unlikely to see his like again."—Marc Arkin, New Criterion

“It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find fault with this book.”—Carol Berkin, New England Quarterly

"From the opening pages of this graceful and elegant biography, Edmund Morgan invites the reader to enter not simply the life but also the mind of one of the most accomplished and interesting men of the eighteenth century. . . . In discussions of everything from Franklin’s struggle with Pennsylvania’s proprietors to the conflicts within American diplomatic ranks in Paris, Morgan treats his readers to brilliant analyses that illuminate the circumstances in which Franklin operated as clearly as they explain Franklin’s responses to those circumstances. . . . It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to find fault with this book. Instead one wants to thank Edmund Morgan for sharing his insights, for giving us such a finely drawn portrait of Franklin that, when we are done, we feel we know Ben almost as well as his biographer does."—Carol Berkin, New England Quarterly

Winner of the 2002 Colonial Dames of America Annual Book Award

Edmund S. Morgan, honored for what 2006 Pulitzer officials described as “his creative and deeply influential body of work as an American historian that spans the last half century.”

Selected by Choice Magazine as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2003

Named one of the best books of 2002 by Los Angeles Times Book Review

Named a Best Book of 2002—Salt Lake City Tribune

Chosen as a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review

Chosen as a best book for 2002 by the Washington Post Book World

Chosen as a best book for 2002 by Publishers Weekly

A finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award in biography

A New York Times Bestseller

Won a 2003 Lifetime Achievement Award from The English-Speaking Union of the United States