THE FRANKLIN AFFAIR

Jim Lehrer, Author, James Lehrer, Author . Random $23.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6198-3

In his 15th novel, PBS news anchor Lehrer turns to the high-stakes world of founding fathers biography for a tale of academic intrigue. His hero is Benjamin Franklin scholar "R" Taylor, who sits on a committee investigating plagiarism charges against another historian, who has in turn threatened to expose the committee members' own lapses in attribution. Exacerbating R's conflicted feelings is the questionable authorship of his beloved mentor's magnum opus. To top it off, he has received a cache of 18th-century documents that seem to incriminate Franklin in the murder of his illegitimate son's mother. The scholarly sleuthing procedural offers cover for Lehrer's temperate satire of academic rivalries, as he takes a stab at how historical imagination works (it requires long conversations with the shade of the founding father one is profiling) and examines the question of what constitutes plagiarism. Lehrer could have probed most of these issues in an extended Newshour segment and panel discussion. Instead, he has fictionalized them in sober prose ("R had come to believe that dramatic performances built around important historical moments were very effective ways to connect young people to history") salted with overripe dialogue ("I swear on Wally's costumed remains, R, that I will not go quietly") that History Book-of-the-Month Club members may find an interesting change of pace. (May)

Reviewed on: 02/28/2005
Release date: 05/01/2005
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