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James Srodes
Booknotes, Sunday, May 19, 2002
James Srodes discusses Franklin: The Essential Founding Father.

In His Lifetime, Benjamin Franklin was celebrated all over the Western world. And with good reason, says award-winning biographer James Srodes in his riveting, comprehensively researched portrait of a man he calls "the essential Founding Father." Having plumbed archives and other sources neglected by previous biographers, Srodes debunks numerous myths that have gatheres about Franklin - many if them spun by other Founding Fathers. Where John Adams - and his biographer David McCullough - had Franklin as indolent and careless, Srodes uses recently discovered documents to show that Franklin was keeping his colleague at arm's length in order to conduct covert activities to help the American cause. Srodes also looks closely at Franklin's reputation asa philanderer and challenges many long-held assumptions. Franklin is a fascinating study of a man of ceaseless energies and remarkable accomplishments: an apprentice printer from Boston who made his name and fortune in colonial Philadelphia before having the greatest adventures in Europe's leading capitals, London and Paris. Here we find the complete Franklin - scientist, diplomat, tradesman, author, inventor, celebrated wit, spymaster, propagandist, military leader, quartermaster. Srodes offers extraordinary insight into this complex man, showing us how Frankin's ability to divide his life into discrete compartments enabled him to accomplish so much in so many different areas. Of the many roles Franklin played, he is perhaps most familiar to us as the genius inventor and experimenter. After all, Frankin's electrical experiments earned him the Cpley Medal, the eighteenth-century equivalent (including bifocals, the lightning rod, and the Franklin stove) are still with us today. But as Srodes shows, Franklin's greatest invention was America, for "it is hard to see how we would be what we are today without the eighty-four-year progress of Benjamin Franklin." More than twenty years before the Declaration of Independence, Franklin was the first to put forward the plan to unite the colonies, and he took the lead in challenging King George's authority. One of only six men to sign both the Declaration and the Constitution, he secured the alliance with France that proved essential to America's success in the Revolution. Indeed, one could say that while George Washington won the battles, Benjamin Franklin won the war. —from the publisher's website (timspalding)… (more)

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