Meltzer notes that, although many biographies of Franklin have been written, relatively few modern versions have been published. Yet, in the twentieth century, unknown materials were found and research discovered much new information about Franklin. The new materials and information allow the biographer to provide added dimensions to Franklin’s character and to explore the factors affecting his life in more depth. While many authors have concentrated on specific aspects of Franklin’s life, Meltzer’s intention was to incorporate the new discoveries and to provide the young reader with a total portrait of the individual.
In his introduction, Meltzer explains the title Benjamin Franklin: The New American. He considers Franklin to be the “new American” in three senses. First, Meltzer suggests that Franklin was the first “self-made” American—a man who began life poor but, through his own efforts, attained high office, renown, and wealth. He set a pattern that modern Americans seek to emulate. Second, Franklin was also multitalented; his interests and accomplishments were wide ranging, a trait in which many Americans take pride. Third, Franklin was the modern scientist, the pragmatist who sought scientific, rather than superstitious, explanations of phenomena. This characteristic can be observed in the practicality of Americans and in the high esteem awarded to scientific endeavors. Meltzer sees Franklin as a comfortable, down-to-earth person, a revolutionary personage to whom modern readers can relate more readily...
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Benjamin Franklin is one of several biographies that Meltzer has written for young adults. He has received awards and considerable recognition for his books, and this work ranks with his best efforts. Meltzer is objective in his presentation and has produced a true biography that contains no invented conversations or events to enhance historical facts. The writing style is one that will hold the young adult’s attention and interest.
Readers may find some of the information surprising and change their perceptions of Franklin. This portrayal can be compared to those in textbooks and other Franklin biographies. Many previous biographies relied on The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1868), which goes up to the age of fifty, but Meltzer has taken advantage of newer material, especially the series The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, published by Yale University Press, which had covered up to the year 1778 at the time that Meltzer’s book was published. He expected the search for materials to continue and that it would take a few decades and twenty-five more volumes to cover documents al-ready located relating to the last twelve years of Franklin’s life. Other, perhaps more comprehensive, Franklin biographies may be expected.
In addition to learning about Franklin, the young adult reader is provided with much historical information about the colonial and revolutionary periods. Meltzer includes descriptions that set Franklin’s accomplishments in the appropriate context of the period. The reader learns, for example, about the beliefs and customs of that era, the educational system, the problems surrounding the acceptance of smallpox inoculation, apprenticeships, the Pennsylvania proprietorship system, the treatment of Native Americans, events leading to the revolutionary war, and its aftermath, including the Constitutional Convention.