The most original and most delightful of the Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin was publisher and printer, essayist and author, businessman and “general,” scientist and philologist, politician and diplomat, moralist and sage—and a thoroughly rational patriot who was a major force in winning his country’s independence and securing its life in the Constitution. Born poor in Cotton Mather’s Boston, he was soon at ease in Quaker Philadelphia, and later in royal London, and in elegant Paris. Born with no advantages, he died wealthy and esteemed. He was the quintessential American, almost totally free of the limits of his environment, ready to accept any challenge, to speculate, experiment, and question.
Esmond Wright, the distinguished English scholar of America, sees Franklin as an Old England Man and a reluctant revolutionary; civilized, urbane, devious, and on occasion just a little unscrupulous. For, despite his charm and genius, Franklin was not admired by everybody. His contemporary John Adams thought little of his political abilities, and the Federalist pamphleteer William Cobbett called him a “crafty and lecherous old hypocrite.” In the next century, Mark Twain, Hawthorne, and Melville did not value him; still later, D. H. Lawrence despised the middle-class morality he promoted. Many today deplore his lack of interest in the arts or metaphysics, his lack of passionate commitment, his opportunism, his occasional coarseness. Yet his success in business, his many-faceted public career, his ingenious inventions and world-renowned scientific genius, his splendid prose style, his worldly wisdom, and the attractive personality that shines through his remarks and writings, made Benjamin Franklin the “new man” of the eighteenth-century dream and also vastly appealing to the modern temper. Wright’s new biography presents a fully rounded portrait of this remarkable man for all ages.
This first comprehensive biography of Franklin in fifty years has taken advantage of Yale’s massive edition-in-progress of Franklin’s papers and of the many specialized studies inspired by the correspondence. Franklin of Philadelphia, designed for the general reader, is also a work for scholars, for the author appends a thorough analysis of other interpretations of Franklin’s career and personality.
Esmond Wright has written the best full-length biography of Franklin since Carl Van Doren’s of nearly fifty years ago; it may in fact be the best yet written. It is certainly the most historical, the one that best sets the man in the circumstances of his time.
The first full-scale life in fifty years, Franklin of Philadelphia is attractively written and penetrating in its judgments. It is also well-proportioned—no small consideration, when you reflect on the range and variety of the material with which Mr. Wright had to deal.
Distinguished, magisterial… Franklin of Philadelphia is an elegantly written, rigorously researched and highly credible biography; the fruits of Wright’s extensive study are evident on every page.
A rounded portrait of all the facets of this extremely versatile and talented man… Anyone wishing to penetrate behind the bifocals, into the urbane mind of the first and greatest of the Yankee scientists, cannot do better than to sample this feast of a biography.
An account that, offering balanced judgment and genuine, if critical, admiration, demands immediate admission into the front rank of Franklin literature.
In many ways…the best biography of Benjamin Franklin ever. It is beautifully written and full of fascinating comments about personalities and political events… The book is a delight.
Rich and satisfying… The book unfolds with an efficient sweep, as Wright organizes details into larger patterns. His style is graceful, his language precise.
Esmond Wright’s Franklin of Philadelphia is a distinguished biography, well-conceived, beautifully written, and always interesting. Its research is deep and its conclusions fresh and original.
- 442 pages
- Belknap Press
From this author
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