Sunday, October 25, 2009

The First American, by H.W. Brands

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, by H.W. Brands

Benjamin Franklin was a scientist, inventor, philosopher, author, scholar, businessman, and diplomat—a true Renaissance man. I knew the highlights (creator of the first public library and first fire department, inventor of bifocals and the Franklin stove and the lightning rod, one of the drafters of the Declaration of Independence, Ambassador to France, ...) but was still surprised at how much else there was to the man. He was an accomplished musician and composer and even invented an instrument: the armonica. He was one of the founders of the University of Pennsylvania, organized the Pennsylvania Militia, and established the first hospital in North America. He even charted and named the Gulf Stream during his many Atlantic crossings. Frankin had a wry sense of humor as well; Poor Richard’s Almanack contains some of his funniest work, with my favorite being the aphorism, “Force shits upon reason’s back.”

Despite being known as one of the fathers of the Revolution, originally Franklin believed that America should remain a part of Britain but governed separately (like Canada) instead of directly by Parliament. As he spent more and more time in England he became disgusted by the corruption of the British government and after a public humiliation he changed his beliefs. “The essence of the Revolution was the triumph of virtue over vice.” I was saddened to read about how venal Parliament was at this point in history; the descriptions could easily apply to our American government of today. Regardless, the examination of Franklin’s politics were the most interesting parts of the book. While no McCullough, Brands has written an excellent book.

First Sentence:
Cotton Mather was the pride of New England Puritanism.

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