Skip to main content

Review: Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin: An American LifeBenjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This thoroughly researched biography takes a close look at Benjamin Franklin’s life, particularly exploring his personality and beliefs. It starts with his English ancestors, follows his parents’ emigration to America, then chronicles his life until his death. I enjoyed reading the stories behind his many maxims. The book provides insight into colonial life before, during, and after the American Revolution. It highlights Franklin’s achievements and lasting influence on America.

I had considered myself a Franklin fan, and I learned more that I like about him, but I also unexpectedly learned even more that soured my view of him. I admire his work ethic, frugality, innovation, self-improvement, entrepreneurship, business sense, negotiating abilities, and rational decision-making. However, although he was personable and a great networker, his relationships were generally shallow, and he was a distant and generally unloving husband and father.

I also disagree with Franklin’s religious views. He abandoned Calvinism for Deism, then created his own brand of Deism based on good works. He believed in God, but only as a benevolent but distant deity who was best served by helping others. He believed that religion was really only useful for making people behave and improving society, and that all religions were valid. He always stressed the material over the spiritual.

Franklin’s motto could have been “Do well by doing good.” He showed that one could attract wealth by being in the business of serving others. He said that he’d rather “live usefully” than “die rich.” He warned against welfare, and supported trickle-down economics. Franklin retired from business at 42, the midpoint of his life, but he arguably accomplished more in the second half. In fact, he was 69 at the signing of the Declaration of Independence!

Franklin was a master diplomat; he knew how to negotiate for mutual benefit, which is why he quickly became involved in politics, then moved from the local to the international level. He used the Socratic method (non-confrontational questioning) to influence people. He also said that a secret to being more revered than resented is to be self-deprecating and unpretentious, which he practiced throughout his life.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Benjamin Franklin or the founding of America. I also recommend Franklin's autobiography, or the modern adaptation (my review).

View all my reviews


Popular posts from this blog

The difference between burritos, chimichangas, and enchiladas

I love Mexican food, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I always get confused between burritos, wet burritos, chimichangas, and enchiladas. Here are the descriptions, with the differences in bold and pictures following each description.

A flour tortilla wrapped around a filling (meat, beans, vegetables, etc)

wet burrito
A burrito that's covered in red chili sauce and cheese. Because of the sauce covering, it looks like an enchilada, but it's made with a flour tortilla, whereas the enchilada is made with a corn tortilla.

A burrito that's deep-fried. Sometimes covered with cheese or another topping.

A corn tortilla wrapped around a filling, covered with chili pepper sauce

Wikipedia: BurritoWikipedia: ChimichangaWikipedia: Enchilada

Edit scanned documents with Word 2007

Office 2007 includes support for converting scanned documents to editable text using OCR (optical character recognition). To get your text from a paper document to Word 2007:
In the Control Panel, open Add or Remove Programs.Find Microsoft Office, click it, and click Change.In the Office Installation Options window, expand Office Tools, click Microsoft Office Document Imaging, and select Run from My Computer from the dropdown.Click Continue or Next until you reach the end.You can now scan documents and convert the scanned images to editable text:
From the Start Menu, find Microsoft Office, then select Microsoft Office Tools, then click Microsoft Office Document Scanning.Choose your preset and options, then click Scan.The scanned image should open in Microsoft Office Document Imaging. To perform OCR and open the editable text in Word, click Tools, Send Text to Word.You can now edit and save the scanned document as a Word document.

My LASIK laser eye surgery experience

Yesterday was a turning point in my life; I had laser eye surgery (LASIK)! Here's a brief summary of my experience.

When I was 16, I barely passed the eye exam at the DMV, so they told me I had to see my eye doctor. Being a self-conscious geek, I opted for contacts over the stereotypical glasses. Although they were fine for most of the day, my contacts always dried out around 8 or 9 PM. My friends will tell you they got sick of my complaints that "my eyes feel like corks!" and "these contacts feel like sandpaper!"

Over the years, I've tried more than 10 different types of contacts, including extended wear, overnight wear, and high-moisture contacts. For a while, I even had contacts with bright blue artificial irises to cover my natural grayish ones. I got a lot of compliments, but they didn't help with the dryness.

I decided to put an end to the suffering this year. LASIK isn't cheap; reputable surgeons charge about $2000 per eye. It hurt to max out my…