WHAT: YOUNG BENJAMIN FRANKLIN:
The Birth of Ingenuity
WHEN: Published by Knopf September 20, 2018
WHERE: The author lives in Lincoln, England.
WHY: “A riveting account of
the ancestry and early life of Ben Franklin.
“Nick Bunker’s diligent research and reconstruction of events from myriad sources were necessitated by Franklin’s own misleading writings; Franklin obscured and distorted his antecedents and upbringing, as when he falsely wrote that he grew up in poverty. Bunker convincingly rebuts that self-serving representation with thoroughly sourced details.
“Even before getting to Franklin’s childhood, Bunker traces Franklin’s family tree in fascinating fashion, starting with his great-grandfather Henry, born in England in 1573. That opening section showcases the political views and philosophies that would influence Franklin’s own: the Franklin family was affiliated with the Whigs, who advocated ideas that parallel those of the Founding Fathers, including ‘freedom of worship for dissenters, and taxation only with Parliament’s consent.’ Bunker doesn’t glorify the family—he notes their support of slavery, a position that Franklin only renounced late in life—or gloss over Franklin’s failings, including repeated attempts to seduce other men’s wives.
“A deep, nuanced examination of the formative influences on an iconic American figure.” –PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, a starred review
“An engaging, illuminating biography of a captivating figure.
Bunker adroitly describes Franklin’s involvement in the religious and political controversies of the day, including slavery, as well as in the scientific projects for which he became renowned.” –KIRKUS, a starred review
“This nuanced portrait of the young Franklin captures the fugitive genius of a quintessential American.” –Bryce Christensen, in a starred review for BOOKLIST
“A thoroughly researched examination of the development of America’s earliest preeminent scientist and statesman.” –Margaret Kappanadze, LIBRARY JOURNAL
. . . . .
FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE BOOK:
Before we share the story of his origins and early years, we begin with a glance at the man as he was late in life: Benjamin Franklin, the affable sage, in the Paris where he played the role of diplomat. With his long hair, his paunch, and his spectacles, he delighted his hosts in France with a manner that conveyed serenity as well as charm. Some of us can do gravitas, and some of us can do joie de vivre, but the Franklin of 1776 could do both. It was a rare combination, and all the more exceptional because it seemed to come so easily.
As America’s envoy to the court of Versailles, Franklin could hush the chatter in a salon full of grandees merely by pausing for a long while before he replied to a probing question. An oracle at peace with himself, or so it seemed, Franklin was always friendly and polite, but also rather distant and reserved: a sage who could be animated and funny when he chose, but somehow never lose his aura of gentility.
Besides the long pauses, which made the big American seem so august and sublime, Franklin had another way to be inscrutable. Unlike most public men of advancing years, he rarely bored his listeners with tales of past achievements, and least of all did he speak of his boyhood and his youth. This was true of his correspondence as well as his conversation. When we turn to his letters, surviving in the thousands, we encounter a Franklin who took the utmost pride in his grammar, his spelling, and the rhythm of his prose, but we will mostly search in vain for intimate details of his early years. Instead his letters show us a practical, up-to-date Franklin, for whom history—including his own—always seemed to matter far less than the future.