FRANKLIN: The Essential Founding Father
Seasoned journalist Srodes (Allen Dulles: Master of Spies) charts Benjamin Franklin's "evolution from striving craftsman to daring diplomat, spy, and national master builder" in an account that situates Franklin as the "essential American." While acknowledging that the successful businessman, scientist, philosopher and social activist had his share of critics during his lifetime and after (D.H. Lawrence, for example, pronounced him "a sexual monster"), Srodes tends to grant such claims little time. Franklin's "malleable" temperament and the many talents he developed over his long life suited him well for his role as a catalyst for progress, Srodes writes: to Franklin, "the idea, not the sponsor, should be the point." When situating Franklin within the context of the conflicting public sentiments with which he had to deal—New England and Virginian patriots, who disdained men from the middle colonies; William Penn's heirs, whom Franklin had to coax to share the cost of the French and Indian War; and the Quaker merchant elite, who considered Franklin's challenges to their ordered society dangerous—Srodes approaches a more balanced portrait. Ultimately, the author contends, while other scientists and philosophers paralleled and even outdistanced Franklin, his greatest accomplishment was that he was the "ingredient that made change happen" and a man whose "best skills were to plot strategy in private and to write documents for public purposes." An extensive bibliography, some of it annotated, will assist interested readers in locating valuable primary and secondary sources for further study. (Apr.)
Forecast:Regnery has a couple of big titles lately, and perhaps the enthusiasm for John Adams will spill over into demand for another founder. Still, this has to compete with last year's comprehensive The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin, by H.W. Brands.