cover image My Life with Benjamin Franklin

My Life with Benjamin Franklin

Claude-Anne Lopez. Yale University Press, $30 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-300-08192-3

Lopez has steeped herself in scholarly appreciation of Benjamin Franklin, spending decades doing research and editing the Franklin papers at Yale. Her latest work comprises 18 essays, published mostly in erudite journals over the years. As would be expected when the subject is Benjamin Franklin, the essays range wonderfully far afield, reflecting the catholicity of Franklin's interests and his innumerable personal, scientific and political involvements. Concentrating on Franklin's years in France (1776-1785), Lopez tells of his absorption with chess and his proficiency in swimming, his brushes with spies, rogues and eccentrics, his avuncular relationships with American teenagers enduring a European education and his possibly more-than-avuncular flirtations with certain young ladies. We follow Franklin into the highest strata of French society, observe his immersion in scientific inquiry and trace his indefatigable efforts to obtain money and supplies for the Continental Army. Other essays address more daunting topics, such as the evolution of Franklin's moral views on slavery. The lead essay--which exposes an anti-Semitic ""Prophecy"" imputed to Franklin to be the fabrication of American Nazis in the 1930s--is especially interesting. Lopez's essays are elegant in construction, and her prose is polished. Each essay is prefaced by a useful explanation of how it came to be written and how its theme illustrates Franklin's character. Readers already knowledgeable about Franklin will appreciate the author's subtle insights into this extraordinary figure, and all will certainly enjoy these graceful exercises in the essay form. (Apr.)