Fleming’s biography delightfully portrays a great inventor, scientist, author, politician, and ambassador. In addition, he provides insightful views of Franklin’s eminently human qualities as a father and as a socially charming man. His illegitimate son William, for example, was welcomed into the Franklin household, where father and son formed a warm relationship until William’s aggressive loyalism divided them. Similarly, though his wife, Deborah, remained in Philadelphia during his extended trips to England and France, Franklin invariably traveled with his son, later with his grandsons. Fleming discusses such close familial relationships at length, including Franklin’s affections for his daughter, Sally, and for his friend Polly Stevenson, whom Franklin treated as a daughter. Viewing these traits against Franklin’s formidable professional achievements, young readers will enjoy this balanced version of Franklin, the affectionate, attentive, if occasionally misguided family man. Franklin’s youthful follies also solicit reader interest, providing further glimpses into his humanity.
Franklin was born into the artisan’s world and despite his financial success always closely associated himself with this class. A printer, he shrewdly maintained connections to these artisans, thus ensuring his own popularity. Even while serving the American cause in France, he printed his own propaganda, and despite his many accomplishments he called himself a printer when writing his epitaph. A bright boy, destined by his father for the ministry, young Franklin was removed from...
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Franklin’s exemplary life, given Fleming’s comprehensive treatment, will continue to be a perennial favorite of American schoolchildren. Popularly remembered for his scientific advancements and inventions, such as the Franklin stove and the lightning rod, Franklin’s immense political contributions are often neglected. Indeed, his intellectual and diplomatic leadership during the revolutionary era was extremely significant. While his contributions to the intellectual, social, and political development of the emergent United States were immeasurable, Fleming’s biography provides an overall study of Franklin’s singular life. Written in 1973, the book reflects bicentennial patriotism but happily is not limited by that fact. More recent Franklin scholarship has not revised the popular perceptions of Franklin’s grand historical role.
Having read Fleming’s book, students may wish to move on to Franklin’s autobiography. Transforming his life into a guide for behavior, but doing so with verve and humor, Franklin made his autobiography pleasurable for readers of all ages. Understandably, Fleming’s early chapters follow Franklin’s own writing, thereby capturing the Philadelphian’s unique personality and his particular joie de vivre.
Fleming’s Benjamin Franklin is liberally sprinkled with humorous anecdotes about the great man’s life, thereby keeping young readers’ interest consistently engaged and their attention spans unstrained. Franklin’s political achievements prove exciting in themselves, as do his contributions in engineering American independence. Readers with broad-ranging curiosities will be stimulated by the many interests of Franklin’s varied life. Set against the backdrop of the American Revolution, this substantively accurate biography illuminates the key historical events leading to this rebellion while providing a pleasurable portrait of America’s most famous eighteenth century figure.