Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Walter Isaacson
Reading Order: Book 41
Categories: 2018, Erik Rostad
Biography, Non-Fiction
Pages: 586
Suggested By: Ryan Holiday, Pavel Tsatsouline, General Stan McChrystal, Marc Andreessen, Vince Vaughn, Brandon Stanton, Coach George Raveling
Date Started: November 14, 2018
Date Finished: November 23, 2018
Reason Book was Chosen: Walter is a master storyteller. I want to learn more about Benjamin Franklin. This seems like the perfect mix.
My Thoughts

This is the 4th book I’ve read by Walter Isaacson. I started with Steve Jobs, then read The Innovators a few years ago, and Da Vinci earlier this year. I love Isaacson’s style and subject matter. If forced to choose between Da Vinci with Benjamin Franklin, I’d choose Benjamin Franklin as my favorite. His life was so interesting.

For starters, I knew very little about Benjamin Franklin coming into this book. Here are some of the things I learned about him:

  • While traveling in Scotland, he stayed with David Hume and conversed with Adam Smith. He met the other famous electrician of the time, Joseph Priestly.
  • He invented a musical instrument called the Armonica. Marie Antoinette took lessons on the instrument and Mozart and Beethoven wrote music for it.
  • He invented the lightning rod. Until he discovered that the electric current from lightning could be redirected, buildings never had lightning rods.
  • His focus of and appreciation for the middle class of America was what gave this nation it’s unique characteristic.
  • His most passionate letters and correspondence were not with his family but rather with friends and ladies who he adored. He died mostly estranged from his son, lived many years away from his wife, and was not at his wife’s deathbed. Whenever he traveled abroad, he basically recreated a home setting complete with a lady and children, although it’s uncertain he ever consummated with these women.
  • He wrote endless numbers of articles for newspapers under pseudonyms. Some of these articles were brilliant stories that spoke directly to political or moral issues of the day.
  • Franklin was widely adored in both England and France. He also received his fair share of displeasure in England, and eventually became its enemy, but he had a deep passion for travel and diplomacy.
  • He founded the University of Pennsylvania.
  • His job as postmaster made it possible for Franklin to travel around the 13 colonies and speak to and be comfortable with all types of people.

Franklin was similar to Da Vinci in that both were endlessly curious. Franklin would spend a lot of time observing and seeking to determine the reasons for things.

I listened to this book on Audible. I prefer reading the physical book, but am trying to get through the majority of books on my 2018 reading list. I spend a lot of time running, and listening to books while running helps me catch up on my reading list. There are some books that are difficult for me as audiobooks. This was not one of them. I was engaged nearly the entire time (with other books, my mind wanders quite easily). So, if you are into audiobooks, this is a great selection.

Overall, an excellent book and one that should be read by all high schoolers in the United States.

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