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Benjamin Franklin, writes journalist and biographer Walter Isaacson, was that rare Founding Father who would sooner wink
at a passer-by than sit still for a formal portrait. What's more, Isaacson relates in this fluent and entertaining
biography, the revolutionary leader represents a political tradition that has been all but forgotten today, one that
prizes pragmatism over moralism, religious tolerance over fundamentalist rigidity, and social mobility over class
privilege. That broadly democratic sensibility allowed Franklin his contradictions, as Isaacson shows. Though a man of
lofty principles, Franklin wasn't shy of using sex to sell the newspapers he edited and published; though far from
frivolous, he liked his toys and his mortal pleasures; and though he sometimes gave off a simpleton image, he was a
shrewd and even crafty politician. Isaacson doesn't shy from enumerating Franklin’s occasional peccadilloes and
shortcomings, in keeping with the iconoclastic nature of our time--none of which, however, stops him from considering
Benjamin Franklin "the most accomplished American of his age," and one of the most admirable of any era. And here’s one
bit of proof: as a young man, Ben Franklin regularly went without food in order to buy books. His example, as always, is
a good one--and this is just the book to buy with the proceeds from the grocery budget. --Gregory McNamee