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The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (Anglais) Broché – 12 mars 2002

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A lesser man would have been humiliated.
Humiliation was the purpose of the proceeding.
It was the outcome eagerly anticipated by the lords of the Privy Council who constituted the official audience, by the members of the House of Commons and other fashionable Londoners who packed the room and hung on the rails of the balcony, by the London press that lived on scandal and milled outside to see how this scandal would unfold, by the throngs that bought the papers, savored the scandals, rioted in favor of their heroes and against their villains, and made politics in the British imperial capital often unpredictable, frequently disreputable, always entertaining. The proceeding today would probably be disreputable. It would certainly be entertaining.
The venue was fitting: the Cockpit. In the reign of Henry VIII, that most sporting of monarchs in a land that loved its bloody games, the building on this site had housed an actual cockpit, where Henry and his friends brought their prize birds and wagered which would tear the others to shreds. The present building had replaced the real cockpit, but this room retained the old name and atmosphere. The victim today was expected to depart with his reputation in tatters, his fortune possibly forfeit, his life conceivably at peril.
Nor was that the extent of the stakes. Two days earlier the December packet ship from Boston had arrived with an alarming report from the royal governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson. The governor described an organized assault on three British vessels carrying tea of the East India Company. The assailants, townsmen loosely disguised as Indians, had boarded the ships, hauled hundreds of tea casks to deck, smashed them open, and dumped their contents into the harbor forty-five tons of tea, enough to litter the beaches for miles and depress the company's profits for years. This rampage was the latest in a series of violent outbursts against the authority of Crown and Parliament; the audience in the Cockpit, and in London beyond, demanded to know what Crown and Parliament intended to do about it.
Alexander Wedderburn was going to tell them. The solicitor general possessed great rhetorical gifts and greater ambition. The former had made him the most feared advocate in the realm; the latter lifted him to his present post when he abandoned his allies in the opposition and embraced the ministry of Lord North. Wedderburn was known to consider the Boston tea riot treason, and if the law courts upheld his interpretagtion, those behind the riot would be liable to the most severe sanctions, potentially including death. Wedderburn was expected to argue that the man in the Cockpit today was the prime mover behind the outburst in Boston. The crowd quivered with anticipation.
They all knew the man in the pit; indeed, the whole world knew Benjamin Franklin. His work as political agent for several of the American colonies had earned him recognition around London, but his fame far transcended that. He was, quite simply, one of the most illustrious scientists and thinkers on earth. His experiments with electricity, culminating in his capture of lightning from the heavens, had won him universal praise as the modern Prometheus. His mapping of the Gulf Stream saved the time and lives of countless sailors. His ingenious fireplace conserved fuel and warmed homes on both sides of the Atlantic. His contributions to economics, meteorology, music, and psychology expanded the reach of human knowledge and the grip of human power. For his accomplishments the British Royal Society had awarded him its highest prize; foreign societies had done the same. Universities queued to grant him degrees. The ablest minds of the age consulted him on matters large and small. Kings and emperors summoned him to court, where they admired his brilliance and basked in its reflected glory.
Genius is prone to producing envy. Yet it was part of Franklin's genius that he had produced far less than his share, due to an unusual ability to disarm those disposed to envy. In youth he discovered that he was quicker of mind and more facile of pen than almost everyone he met; he also discovered that a boy of humble birth, no matter how gifted, would block his own way by letting on that he knew how smart he was. He learned to deflect credit for some of his most important innovations. He avoided arguments wherever possible; when important public issues hinged on others' being convinced of their errors, he often argued anonymously, adopting assumed names, or Socratically, employing the gentle questioning of the Greek master. He became almost as famous for his sense of humor as for his science; laughing, his opponents listened and were persuaded.
Franklin's self-effacing style succeeded remarkably; at sixty-eight he had almost no personal enemies and comparatively few political enemies for a man of public affairs. But those few included powerful figures. George Grenville, the prime minister responsible for the Stamp Act, the tax bill that triggered all the American troubles, never forgave him for single-handedly demolishing the rationale for the act in a memorable session before the House of Commons.
Grenville and his allies lay in wait to exact their revenge on Franklin. Yet he never made a false step. Until now. A mysterious person had delivered into his hands confidential letters from Governor Hutchinson and other royal officials in Massachusetts addressed to an undersecretary of state in London. These letters cast grave doubt on the bona fides of Hutchinson, for years the bête noire of the Massachusetts assembly. As Massachusetts's agent, Franklin had forwarded the letters to friends in Boston. Hutchinson's enemies there got hold of the letters and published them.
The publication provoked an instant uproar. In America the letters were interpreted as part of a British plot to enslave the colonies; the letters fueled the anger that inspired the violence that produced the Boston tea riot. In England the letters provoked charges and countercharges as to who could have been so dishonorable as to steal and publish private correspondence. A duel at swords left one party wounded and bothparties aching for further satisfaction; only at this point--to prevent more bloodshed--did Franklin reveal his role in
transmitting the letters.
His foes seized the chance to destroy him. Since that session in Commons eight years before, he had become the symbol and spokesman in London of American resistance to the sovereignty of Parliament; on his head would be visited all the wrath and resentment that had been building in that proud institution from the time of the Stamp Act to the tea riot. Alexander Wedderburn sharpened his tongue and moved in for the kill.
None present at the Cockpit on January 29, 1774, could afterward recall the like of the hearing that day. The solicitor general outdid himself. For an hour he hurled invective at Franklin, branding him a liar, a thief, the instigator of the insurrection in Massachusetts, an outcast from the company of all honest men, an ingrate whose attack on Hutchinson betrayed nothing less than a desire to seize the governor's office for himself. So slanderous was Wedderburn's diatribe that no London paper would print it. But the audience reveled in it, hooting and applauding each sally, each bilious bon mot. Not even the lords of the Privy Council attempted to disguise their delight at Wedderburn's astonishing attack. Almost to a man and a woman, the spectators that day concluded that Franklin's reputation would never recover. Ignominy, if not prison or worse, was his future now.

Revue de presse

“H.W Brands has given us the authoritative Franklin biography for out time.” —Joseph J. Ellis author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Founding Brothers

“Like its subject, this biography is both solid and enchanting.” —The New Yorker

“[A] biography with a rich cast of secondary characters and a large and handsome stock of historical scenery.... Brands writes clearly and confidently about the full spectrum of the polymath’s interests.... This is a Franklin to savor.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Benjamin Franklin’s life is one every American should know well, and it has not been told better than by Mr. Brands.” —The Dallas Morning News

“A vivid portrait of the 18th-century milieu and of the 18th-century man.... [Brands is] a master storyteller.” —The Christian Science Monitor

“A thorough biography of Benjamin Franklin, America’s first Renaissance man.... In graceful, even witty prose.... Brands relates the entire, dense-packed life.” —The Washington Post

“A lively re-introduction to Franklin.... Rich in the descriptions of settings, personalities, and action.... [Brands] offers ... a succession of amusing anecdotes and vivid tales.” —The New Republic

“Comprehensive, lively.... [Brands] is a skilled narrator who believes in making good history accessible to the non-specializing book lover, and the general reader can read this book with sustained enjoyment.” —The Boston Globe

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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x8c59cae0) étoiles sur 5 215 commentaires
143 internautes sur 146 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8c38b780) étoiles sur 5 A thorough and accessible account of a brilliant man 29 octobre 2000
Par Richard Quarles - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Don't be intimidated by the length (700 pages without notes) of this fine book. It's an extremely well-written and engaging account of a life well lived. The author makes great use of Franklin's immense body of writing as well as his innate humor. The result is a wonderfully readable biography that brings forth both the man and his accomplishments.
As a Founding Father, Franklin is naturally accorded respect, gratitude, and even awe by most Americans. His famous experiments with electricity and his numerous inventions from bifocals to the armonica are cause for amazement no matter what your nationality. His civic contributions include founding both the first lending library and the first fire station in America. His writings are numerous and visionary. One might expect a man of such accomplishments to be vain, driven, or aloof. But, as this book will make clear, Ben Franklin was first and foremost a delightful and humorous man. You'll enjoy getting to know him better.
If you've an interest in historical biography or the history of the American Revolution, you simply must read this book. Even if you don't usually read history, there's no better re-introduction to this marvelous figure from your school book days.
108 internautes sur 111 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8c1dd12c) étoiles sur 5 Exquisite biography, superb history 21 septembre 2000
Par Un client - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
With this magnificent book, author H. W. Brands has rescued ol' Ben Franklin from the dustbin of historical caricature. The statesman, printer, scientist, inventor, author, diplomat, raconteur, and ladies' man emerges in these pages as living flesh and blood. No more are we left with Franklin, the relentlessly glib and clever bon vivant (though he was certainly that -- among other things). In H. W. Brands's skilled hands you get a real sense of his motivation as a person, his passions, his jealousies.
Consider the opening scene, in the Prologue. Here Brands shows us Franklin, bracing himself for cross-examination in the British court, the Privy Council, in connection with the revolutionary goings-on in Massachusetts. The dramatic scene Brands sets up isn't just for entertainment, however. As he presents Franklin enduring eviscerating ridicule at the hands of the British royal solicitor, Wedderburn, Brands makes the case that Franklin finally discovered his American-ness right then and there, and history was never the same as a result. If that's how the Brits want to treat the generous and fair Benjamin Franklin, Franklin must have thought, let them live with the consequences.
From this gripping beginning, with its strong sense of motivation and narrative momentum, Brands takes us on a tour of early colonial New England, to Franklin's early life, his family life, and his role in establishing the Republic and steering its fate through the difficult shoals of international diplomacy.
It would not be surprising if this book gets its due when the Pulitzer Prizes are nominated and voted upon. Kudos to Professor Brands. Few academics are such natural-born storytellers.
56 internautes sur 59 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8c06e018) étoiles sur 5 A work worthy of its subject 2 novembre 2000
Par Roger Cohen - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
The First American is an exceptionally entertaining, insightful and informative work of historical biography. I'm not a speedy reader, but I consumed this book in a few weeks of train commutes to and from work (I have no idea what's been going on in the world since late September) and am now bereft that it is finished. I was struck by how much Franklin's legacy suffers from the iconography (another reviewer correctly called it historical caricature). Franklin the Myth, as it turns out, is far less than Franklin the Man. The Doctor is more than an American giant -- he is in the first tier in the pantheon of modern civilization's geniuses; right up there among Leonardo and Shakespeare and Gutenberg.
A minor quibble: I was disappointed not to learn how Franklin's son William (a notorious Tory during the War of Independence)and his grandsons Temple Franklin and Benny Bache fared in their lives, and how subsequent generations of Franklin progeny coped with the giant's legacy. I know the book was the Life and Times (I most appreciated that Brands took "The Times" part of the equation as seriously as "The Life") but somehow I think the Doctor would have been tickled if the reach of his Life and Times had been extended to include the following generations.
Again, a masterwork, for which I am grateful and privileged to have enjoyed as well as I did.
39 internautes sur 40 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8c1d215c) étoiles sur 5 Benjamin Franklin: A Wonderful Life 8 août 2002
Par Gregory Maier - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
It's curious how many biographies about prime ministers, generals, past presidents, and personalities from the Revolutionary War era have been published in recent years. Perhaps the phenomenon is not so strange in light of H.W. Brands' volume about Benjamin Franklin, a man who, even in life, appeared to be part mortal and part god. At a time when our culture seems to yearn for stories about persons of character and achievement, of people who were not merely good but who were also good for something, this book comes none too soon. Inventor, printer, writer, philosopher, diplomat, representative, treaty-maker, land speculator, abolitionist, patron of education, arts and sciences, to name a handful of things, it's fair to say Franklin seems to have "done it all," and what a life! His contributions to science, the infant United States and in other areas cannot be emphasized too heavily. To use a Franklinism, he was indeed a jack-of-all-trades, and master of many. In some respects the man almost seemed too big for his life, but the ever-evolving Franklin changed things when he couldn't change himself, and largely shaped his own world --and his legacy. It's a big legacy, a mighty story, and Brands does an honest and capable job sifting through the lore and legend surrounding Benjamin Franklin the man, although even after finishing the book, Franklin's myth still looms large. Perhaps it is only the titanic shadow he casts across recent history? Whatever it is, Brands presents the reader with a fully human Franklin who was capable of some seemingly superhuman undertakings, a mortal man with flaws and failings, subject to flukes of fate, as well as flights of the highest intellectual and moral insight and courage when it was most needed. Frankly it is astonishing that one man could have lived such a life in times that were as fascinating and exciting as they were dangerous and uncertain. Brands breathes life into the many worlds his subject inhabited, from Philadelphia to France, colonial Boston to Great Britain, and the broad strokes and fine points are all alive and vibrant. This biography is luxurious by turns and, in only a few spots, prosaic.
Brands may not quite possess the gift of flowing prose that other biographers like McCullough or Ellis have, but his rendering is decidedly readable and thoroughly enjoyable. In fact the only places where I was "rubbed" were instances when Brands presented Franklin in a situation or against a backdrop without saying more about the setting. E.g., one may well remember the particulars of Queen Anne's War and the French and Indian War from school days gone by. But for one who does not, a little more background would be helpful, though I concede it would be difficult to insert even more detail into such an already copiously detailed, opulent book. It is also evident that Brands admires Franklin. That's not so hard to understand, especially when reading his treatment of Franklin, and perhaps his enthusiasm is better momentum than a dispassionate, cold eye. He achieves an energetic, well-balanced portrait of Franklin without sacrificing academic integrity. Granted, there are places where Brands seems to gloss over or merely mention in passing some of Franklin's human weaknesses, vanities, and so forth --but that certainly does not damage the book, whether one chooses to view Franklin as a dissipated bon vivant or a philosopher-hero.
Brands also succeeds in putting the flesh back on Franklin through the use of the good Doctor's own words, gleaned from surviving letters and other sources. The reader is treated to the sometimes wry, sometimes subtle, and occasionally passionate, grand language that Franklin used. Franklin's words, carefully chosen and wielded with astonishing dexterity, are as pertinent now as ever they were and, quite often, eerily prescient. As any person who reads this highly accessible biography will soon come to understand, though, Benjamin Franklin was more than a mere wordsmith.
Often by his own designs and comportment, Franklin was many things to many people and few were ambiguous in their feelings toward him. To most, he was dearly beloved, sagacious --and in some cases, he was positively loathed. What can one expect from a man who could be so changeable yet steadfast, resolute? Charming, with a rapier wit, no one who was touched by anything he did was unmoved, and that applies to the modern reader of this book.
Brands has wrestled with a giant, and not even his meticulousness and inquisitiveness can do Franklin's fertile mind and piercing intellect full justice, but that he has done so and succeeded so well is an accomplishment. One can only hope new generations will be introduced to a Benjamin Franklin wholly new, or at least presented in a different light, a man more than just a kite-flying revolutionary whose face happens to grace the $100 bill. Undoubtedly this handsomely done book will be the authoritative work on Franklin for at least the next twenty to fifty years. Enjoy it. It's well worth the read.
40 internautes sur 43 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
HASH(0x8c34a6fc) étoiles sur 5 Outstanding Biography 24 janvier 2001
Par Dana Keish - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
When I first saw this book available for sale, I could not wait to read it. Other founding fathers, such as Washington, Adams and Jefferson have had numerous biographies devoted to them and their role in the American Revolution. Benjamin Franklin was long overdue for a new biography and H.W. Brands has supplied an excellent chapter on one of the most illustrious founding fathers.
The book demonstrates the rise of Franklin from a younger son in a large family in Boston to a well known and respected printer in Philadelphia. Based on extreme hard work, frugality and ghe ability to impress power men, Franklin quickly becomes a force in the city. The most interesting think about this point in his life is the agility of his mind. Never content to simply wonder why, Franklin educates himself in such diverse areas as philosophy, science, mechnical engineering, etc. The classic American dream of rags to riches is truly demonstrate via the life of Franklin.
Later in his life, Franklin spent many years in England as the colonial agent for Pennsylvania. His fame as an amateur scientist through his experiments with electricity meant he was already well known in England. Franklin himself loved England during this time in his life and the author points out that it took quite a bit of abuse from the English politicians to turn him away from pursuing reconciliation with the Mother Country.
Once he knew that America must achieve independence and at the age of 70 (!), Franklin returned to Philadelphia and began the exciting process of fighting for independence and setting up a new country. Soon after, he went to France to persuade the French government to help the fledgling country. Later still, he worked on the development of the U.S. Constitution. In the history of man, it is difficult to find a man whose life encompasses such a wide range of achievement.
The author does a fine job of drawing upon Franklin's own words to illustrate his life. The writing flows smoothly and covers most areas of his life in sufficient detail. Only one small complaint- I wish more would have been discussed regarding his private life, especially his marrige.
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