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Pulitzer Prize Finalist
A groundbreaking scientist, leading businessman, philosopher, bestselling author, inventor, diplomat, politician, and wit, Benjamin Franklin was perhaps the most beloved and celebrated American of his age, or indeed of any age. Now, in a beautifully written and meticulously researched account of Franklin's life and times, his clever repartee, generous spirit, and earthy wisdom are brought compellingly to the page.
His circle of friends and acquaintances extended around the globe, from Cotton Mather to Voltaire, from Edmund Burke to King George III, from Sir Isaac Newton to Immanuel Kant. Franklin was gifted with a restless curiosity, and his scientific experiments with electric currents and the weather made him the leading pioneer in the new field of electricity on both sides of the Atlantic; among his many inventions were the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, and the harmonica, a musical instrument that became the rage of Europe.
From his humble beginnings in Boston as a printer's apprentice, he became, within two decades, the leading printer and one of the most important businessmen in the Colonies. A longtime Philadelphia civic leader, he created Philadelphia's first fire department, wrote the bestseller Poor Richard's Almanac, served as Postmaster General for the Colonies, and in the process, completely modernized the mail service. A bon vivant and ladies' man throughout his life, he matched wits with Parliament and the Crown during the decade leading up to the Stamp Act; and as the official agent to Parliament, representing several of the Colonies, he helped push the Colonies into open rebellion.
Tracing Franklin's gradual transformation from reluctant revolutionary to charismatic leader in the fight for independence, Brands convincingly argues that on the issue of revolution, as Franklin went, so went America. During the Revolutionary War, Franklin was charged by Congress with wooing the King of France to the American cause, and it was the diplomatic alliances he forged and funds he raised in France that allowed the Continental Army to continue to fight on the battlefield. In his final years, as president of the Constitutional Convention, it was Franklin who held together the antagonistic factions and persuaded its members to sign the Constitution.
Drawing on previously unpublished letters to and from Franklin, as well as the recollections and anecdotes of Franklin's contemporaries, H. W. Brands has created a rich and compelling portrait of the eighteenth-century genius who was in every respect America's first Renaissance man, and arguably the pivotal figure in colonial and revolutionary America. A fascinating and richly textured biography of the man who was perhaps the greatest of our Founding Fathers, The First American is history on a grand scale, as well as a major contribution to understanding Franklin and the world he helped to shape.
“[A] skillfully written biography...[A] truly inspired work by one of America’s best historians.”—Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies and professor of history at the University of New Orleans