If you are looking for a holiday gift that is both serious and enjoyable while capturing much of the spirit of America's founding, you need go no further than "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life."
Isaacson understands something about the American Revolution and the founding fathers that many students of the era never quite get. Each founding father plays an essential role in our becoming an independent republic. Washington is the titan of moral authority on whose integrity our nation rests. Jefferson is the brilliant writer and theorist who helped create modern politics. Madison's systematic hard work created the system of legislative power and constitutional authority that protects our freedoms. Hamilton's understanding of economics and social forces established the capitalist structure, which has made this the wealthiest society in history.
Yet in the deepest sense, these great men were pre-American. They belonged to an earlier, different era where most were landed gentry. Even Hamilton longed for the stability of monarchy.
Only Franklin personified the striving, ambitious, rising system of individual achievement, hard work, thrift and optimism found at the heart of the American spirit. Only Franklin worked his way up in the worlds of business and organized political power in both colonial and national periods. Only Franklin was a world-renowned scientist, founder of corporations, inventor of devices and creator of the American mythos of the common man.
Gordon Wood's "The Radicalism of the American Revolution" caught intellectually this sudden shift from the stable, serious gentry who dominated the founding to the wild, energetic, boisterous Jacksonians who came to define the American ethos.
Franklin is the precursor to the Jacksonians. He personified, literally lived, the American dream and then captured it in an amazingly self aware, fun to read autobiography, which may be the first great book of the American civilization.
Isaacson has captured and portrayed Franklin in all his glory and complexity. This is a book worth giving any of your friends who would better understand America or any foreigner who wonders at our energy, our resilience, our confidence and our success.
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