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Benjamin Franklin

An American Life

By Walter Isaacson
  • Read in 19 minutes
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  • Contains 12 key ideas
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Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

In Benjamin Franklin (2004), you’ll discover the life and passions of one of America’s most respected and beloved personalities, from his early days as an essay writer to his budding scientific career to finally his inspirational role as one of the founding fathers of the United States of America.

Key idea 1 of 12

Young Benjamin Franklin was rebellious yet highly intelligent, despite having had little formal schooling.

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1705. As a young boy, Franklin already showed signs of independence and inventiveness, evident for example in how he approached swimming.

Wanting to swim faster yet realizing his fingers and toes were preventing him from doing so, Franklin began tinkering with contraptions to help propel him faster through the water. His solution? Fashioning paddles for his hands and flippers for his feet!

His parents planned for Franklin to receive an education and then enter the church. Yet his father Josiah soon realized that his youngest son wasn't fit for the clergy. There are many anecdotes describing young Benjamin’s mischievous ways – and none paint him as especially pious.

For example, Franklin thought the grace his father recited before each meal was tedious. So after the meat for that winter had been salted and stored in a barrel, Franklin asked his father if he would instead say grace over the barrel, as it would save time!

Franklin spent just two years enrolled at a local school, where he was taught writing and arithmetic. Then, at just 10 years old, he started work as an apprentice. First he worked under his father, and then with his older brother James, who founded the New England Courant, the first independent newspaper in Boston.

Eventually Franklin grew tired of working alongside his brother, chafing at his subordinate role as an apprentice – especially since he had managed the newspaper on his own when James was away in England.

So even though he was still a teenager, Franklin decided to strike out on his own instead.

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