Over the course of a long lifetime and several diverse careers, Benjamin Franklin made an undeniable impact in the areas of science, letters, and-- most notably-- government. In The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin, author James Cross Giblin presents a highly readable, entertaining portrait of one of the country's founders.
One of 17 children of a candle and soap maker, Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston. At the age of 12, Ben was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer. Working at the print shop during the day and honing his writing skills at night, Ben eventually began writing humorous articles for James's newspaper. At age 17, Ben became editor of the newspaper.
At the age of 22, Ben Franklin left Boston for Philadelphia and bought his own print shop. Over the next two decades, Franklin became very successful-- first through his weekly newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette, and later through his annual publication, Poor Richard's Almanack. Each edition of the Almanack sold 10,000 copies, a remarkable number in colonial America. According to Giblin, by the time Franklin retired at the age of 42, he was financially secure.
It was during this period that Franklin's interest in public affairs started. He was a founding member of the Junto, a club of young men interested in books and education. Together, he and fellow club members established the first library in the colonies, established Philadelphia's first fire department, and initiated numerous other civic improvements.
Franklin's retirement from printing led to a second career as a public servant. Beginning in the 1750s, he moved out of the realm of local politics and into matters that concerned all the colonies. According to Giblin, Franklin's original goal was to help the colonies avoid serious conflicts with Great Britain:
"Ben vowed to do everything he could to get the Stamp Act repealed. If it weren't, he was afraid there might be a serious break between the colonies and Great Britain. But he still believed firmly that such a break could be avoided. He still wanted America to be a part of the British Empire."
However, over the years, Franklin became convinced that reconciliation was impossible. After signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the 70-year-old Ben Franklin risked the dangers of a winter sea voyage to help negotiate a military alliance between America and France. After American independence, Franklin hoped to finally retire, but at the age of 81, with his health failing, he agreed to serve as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. In 1790, Benjamin Franklin died at the age of 84.
In addition to his success as a writer and his invaluable contributions as a political leader, Ben Franklin played two other roles during his lifetime: inventor and family man. As an inventor, he conducted the famous kite experiment that proved that lighting and electricity are the same. He was also responsible for the invention of a cleaner, more efficient heating stove; a clock that showed seconds as well as hours and minutes; the library chair; and bifocal glasses.
Unfortunately, Franklin suffered some heartbreak in his personal life. He was devoted to his wife, Deborah, but his civic obligations often keep them apart. Never as outgoing and adventurous as her husband, Deborah declined to accompany him on most of his trips. She died in 1774. The second of his three children, Francis, died of smallpox at the age of four. Another major disappointment was his oldest son, William, who served the British cause during the Revolutionary War. This was the cause of a permanent rift between father and son. Only his youngest child, Sarah, along with her husband and children, were part of his life at the end.
Giblin's end materials include a timeline, a list of Ben Franklin's better-known inventions, sayings from Poor Richard's Almanack, a listing of historical sites, and a brief bibliography. Giblin's text is enhanced by Michael Dooling's detailed full-color illustrations.
Lauren P. Gattilia
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