100 Books for America: Ben Franklin

With 98 days left until the election, let us continue looking at the 100 books every American should read. These write-ups will be short and not incredibly comprehensive looks at some books and novels that will help you become a better citizen.

Walter Isaacson says Benjamin Franklin is the Founding Father who winks at us.

Indeed, he seems to be the founder we can most intimately get to know. Part of that is because he probably wrote the most of any founder. Part of it is that, aside from Washington, he is the founder most written about.

And why not?

The man is America. He’s full of faults and foibles, not to mention wisdom and whit. He captured our imagination as a scientist, essayist, and statesman.

He’s the only man with anything close to the right to challenge Washington for the title of America’s father.

After all, he is the father of American journalism, a founder of America’s public library system, an organizer of America’s first volunteer fire company, and storied inventor. Before America was America, he was the colonies’ most famous citizen.

Franklin wasn’t the driving force for America’s independence or even the birth of a nation state in the constitution. Those designations belong to John and Samuel Adams, and James Madison, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris and Alexander Hamilton respectively. But he was a preeminent steadying hand during both revolutions.

The posthumously published memoir was never actually finished. And it’s not entirely to be trusted.

Franklin knew what he was doing. Like Washington, he had his sights focused eying the horizon. Both men wrote with the idea of sculpting their legacies.

Franklin, easily the generation’s best writer (Pound sand, TJ), has the most accessible autobiography of the Founding Fathers. Adams comes closest, but he is too self-important, though his arguments carry the most water today. And he had some interesting adventures.

Last fall, I was able to teach it a bit for two days and had a blast with some freshman.

We spent time on Franklin’s 13 virtues. Essentially Franklin kept a chart of 13 virtues, in hopes of improving his behavior. It’s a fascinating exercise to analyze and mimic.

The kids seemed to relate to the idea of bettering yourself in a similar way. They also enjoyed figuring out what Franklin meant by things like “Temperance.”

While other biographies of Franklin, particularly Isaacson’s, give you a fuller picture of the man, his own autobiography is a valuable insight into the original “All-American.”

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Previously, we discussed a novel about war and truth. Up next, The Bomb.

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