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The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin Paperback – May 31 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (May 31 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143035282
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143035282
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 13.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 295 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #516,551 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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Benjamin Franklin has a special place in the hearts and minds of Americans. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Format: Hardcover
Benjamin Franklin is often considered the quintessential American. A recent best-selling biography of Franklin is entitled "The First American," and many other biographers have also played up the Americanness of his life. His story is a familiar one to most Americans. Franklin overcame his lowly beginnings through a combination of street smarts and hard work. He was intelligent without being theoretical. He was a social joiner but also wary of traditional class distinctions. Because of this, he seemed to typify what many modern Americans feel is most distinctive about their nation.
Historian Gordon S. Wood splashes cold water on these common assumptions of Franklin's life. Wood shows that in many ways Franklin was not typical of his fellow Americans at all. Once he made himself a success, for example, he stopped working and began to imitate a gentleman. After Franklin moved to Europe and got a taste of the civilized life, it was difficult for him to break away from it and return to America. He often misjudged the opinion of his fellow Americans, sometimes leading too far in front of them and sometimes following too far behind. As a result, he was far more popular in Europe than he was in his home land. After his death, the public grieving in the U.S. was mild compared to that of other revolutionary leaders.
Wood's book is largely a conventional biography that is distinctive from other Franklin biographies only in its interpretation. Wood sees the Sage of Philadelphia as a proto-American, someone who became American only in retrospect as more and more nineteenth-century Americans began to lead lives similar to Franklin's. Like him, they worked in the trades and strove for social respectability and financial success while also maintaining a working class identity. As these self-made men began to predominate, Franklin's life became a model for them, and the popularity among Americans that he never saw in his lifetime became his.
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Format: Hardcover
Gordon S. Wood is such a fabulous writer and such a skilled historian that it's impossible to not be impressed by his work. He writes history that reads so smoothly and argues so gracefully that it's impossible to not be convinced. Wood has a comfort zone that he likes to operate in, and all of his books are resident in this zone. It has two components. First, he constructs all his arguments in a "before" and "after" style in order to frame the central points of his thesis. He says, once upon a time things were like this. Then a critical event happened that changed everything. That event, for Wood, is always the Peace of Paris in 1783. But it's not the military or political or economic consequences of the Revolution that Wood insists changed everything. It's the change in social structure and, more to the point, the blurring of social class lines due to social mobility (both physical and economic) that moved America and its people from feudalism to democracy. THE RADICALISM OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION went something like this, and the current biography of Franklin puts him in this context. It's a view of Franklin in terms of social class. Now, I'm sure Dr. Wood would argue with me, saying that I reduce his theses down into far too simple terms. Granted, I'm not criticizing him. This work, as his others, is a penetrating study and should attract much scholarly and critical acclaim.
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Format: Hardcover
Gordon S. Wood has done another great job in his newest work of history, The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. This is not in any way a definitive biography but instead is a more focused work, essentially examining Franklin's move from a lover of the British Empire into an American patriot and then, finally, into an American icon, possibly one of American's most resonant. Franklin is always a fascinating tale, as his own Autobiography has shown for centuries, and Wood captures the tale of artisan of lowly origins turned into a diplomat at foreign courts with great skill. The author's look at how Franklin became an icon after his death is very interesting. For those who missed reading the massive biography of Franklin two summers ago, this one is not to be missed.
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