Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

  • by Walter Isaacson
  • Narrated by Nelson Runger
  • 24 hrs and 45 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Benjamin Franklin is the founding father who winks at us - an ambitious urban entrepreneur who rose up the social ladder, from leather-aproned shopkeeper to dining with kings.
In best-selling author Walter Isaacson's vivid and witty full-scale biography, we discover why Franklin turns to us from history's stage with eyes that twinkle from behind his new-fangled spectacles. In Benjamin Franklin, Isaacson shows how Franklin defines both his own time and ours.
The most interesting thing that Franklin invented, and continually reinvented, was himself. America's first great publicist, he was consciously trying to create a new American archetype. In the process, he carefully crafted his own persona, portrayed it in public, and polished it for posterity. His guiding principle was a "dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people". Few of his fellow founders felt this comfort with democracy so fully, and none so intuitively.
In this colorful and intimate narrative, Isaacson provides the full sweep of Franklin's amazing life, from his days as a runaway printer to his triumphs as a statesman, scientist, and Founding Father. He chronicles Franklin's tumultuous relationship with his illegitimate son and grandson, his practical marriage, and his flirtations with the ladies of Paris. He also shows how Franklin helped to create the American character and why he has a particular resonance in the 21st century.

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What the Critics Say

"The most readable full-length Franklin biography available." (The Washington Post Book World)
"Energetic, entertaining, and worldly." (The New Yorker)
"In its common sense, clarity and accessibility, it is a fitting reflection of Franklin's sly pragmatism.... This may be the book that most powerfully drives a new pendulum swing of the Franklin reputation." (The New York Times Book Review)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Good book, not crazy about the narrator

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, if they are interested in learning about the founding fathers and in the life of scientists.


What other book might you compare Benjamin Franklin: An American Life to and why?

Washington: A Life. They are comprehensive biographies that portray their subjects as actual humans, with virtues and flaws, and make you feel close to them, their way of thinking, and how they became great historic icons.


How did the narrator detract from the book?

While his tone and articulation were very good, I cannot say the same about the frequent "mouth" sounds throughout the narration. You can hear him stopping to drink water, swallowing, and making other sounds that are distracting, annoying, and a little disgusting. I know that your mouth can become dry from narrating such a long book, but I have listened to the George Washington biography, Herman Wouk's Winds of War, and other equally long books, without these "sound effects".
I think the narrator was good, but the sound production team could have worked better at filtering the sounds.


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- Cathi

Great Book! Annoying Narrator

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this book to anyone who has never heard another narrator before, or someone who is so interested in the life of Benjamin Franklin that they are willing to put up with the narrator's annoying "impersonations."


What was one of the most memorable moments of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life?

Walter Isaacson is on par with the greatest biographers of all time, of course that is just my humble opinion. The entire plot of the book is memorable. There are things that at points you wonder, why do I need to know this minute detail, but then it comes up a few minutes later and you realize why Mr. Isaacson inserted such a detail.


What didn’t you like about Nelson Runger’s performance?

Runger has a habit of trying too hard to sound like the person who he is portraying. For example, if he is narrating a letter by Mrs. Franklin, he will use a very shrill voice to try to imitate her, which is very annoying since he already has a very shrill voice himself. Then when he is narrating a letter by one of the Mathers or a proprietor or a member of parliament, he deepens his voice and begins to sound more like a cartoon character. By him doing this, it takes away from the book and the pleasure of listening to such a great story. If you have listened to a narration by Edward Hermann, then you will be disappointed by this narrator. Sorry to be blunt.


Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

When Benjamin Franklin was in the "Cockpit;" oh to be a fly on one of those walls and to have been able to witness his silent protest.


Any additional comments?

I believe Walter Isaacson to be one of the greatest biographers, but I think anyone who listens to this particular audiobook will agree that Mr. Runger is nowhere near the caliber of narrator for such a great book. If Mr. Isaacson had done anything less than a stupendous job with this book, I would have given up listening to Mr. Runger before Benjamin Franklin ran away from his brother's shop.

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- Adan Gonzales

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-07-2011
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio