three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
user_rating: 
0
A-AmericanizationBenjaminWe all know Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father, creator of Poor Richard’s Almanack, inventor of pithy sayings and the kite-flying electricity experiment. But did we know that Franklin was also a reluctant patriot? Wood’s new study traces Franklin’s transformation from a "true-blue English" who "had not thought that America should not be part of England." Only after the Mother Country publicly humiliated him did Franklin embrace and shape the impending Revolution. The converted patriot negotiated a crucial alliance with France and, after the war, spent the next 27 years overseas, representing America.
Penguin. 299 pages. $25.95.
ISBN: 159420019X

Newsday 4 of 5 Stars
"Wood brilliantly recounts Franklin’s conversion from a committed imperialist and royalist into a fiery revolutionary patriot." Kenneth Silverman

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Since Franklin’s early life has become a kind of fireside yarn, told and retold to the point of being threadbare, Wood shifts his focus to Franklin’s middle years—the time when, having secured his fortune, he retired to focus on diplomacy, travel and philanthropy." John Freeman

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Professor Wood has written an illuminating, accessible and entertaining contribution to the growing literature about Benjamin Franklin. His incisive portrait leaves the Founder more well-rounded, more complex in his motivations and hence more human." Chuck Leddy

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Wood gives] the patient reader an exceptionally rich perspective on one of the most accomplished, complex and unpredictable Americans of his own time or any other." Jonathan Yardley

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"With all that has been said of Franklin over the years, it is difficult to develop a fresh take. Yet this is what Wood offers us in The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin. … Given his theme, however, one is left wishing that Wood had revealed a little more of the double edge of the sword of Americanization." Alan Tully

Critical Summary

Reviewers agree that Wood’s new book makes a valuable addition to the recent spate of Founding Fathers literature. More of a study than a biography, the book follows the twists and turns of Franklin’s life—from commoner to gentleman, from Royalist to Patriot—with great insight. Despite the title, Wood (author of Pulitzer Prize-winning The Radicalism of the American Revolution) presents Franklin as a "worldly foreigner" and then, later, as a symbol of home-grown democracy (Providence Journal). The Boston Globe points out that while Wood shows the qualities of Franklin that Americans embraced, he fails to show what they rejected; a "greater illumination of … the complexities of Americanization would have made a very worthwhile book even more so."

Recently Reviewed

AS-BenFrankMorganBenjamin Franklin | Edmund S. Morgan (2002): 4 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2003. A "purposely short" biography that focuses on Franklin, the Political Philosopher, and omits much of his personal life.

AS-BenFrankAmericanLifeBenjamin Franklin An American Life | Walter Isaacson (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003. A more comprehensive, modern take on Franklin—the upwardly mobile innovator, businessman, and politician, the Founding Father who most resembles us today.