Picks and Pans Review: Benjamin Franklin An American Life

UPDATED 07/14/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 07/14/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT

By Walter Isaacson
Critic's Choice

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He was never President, but Benjamin Franklin may have had more influence on our national character than any other Founding Father. That's what Isaacson persuasively argues in this sparkling new biography. Franklin emerges as less a politician than a civic-minded entrepreneur who promoted hard work and thrift, the values on which the American middle class was built.

With a straightforward style, Isaacson, the former managing editor of Time and chairman of CNN (TIME, CNN and PEOPLE are all owned by AOL Time Warner), delves into Franklin's public triumphs, such as his pivotal role in the Constitution, as well as his private setbacks: His only son to survive infancy was illegitimate and a British loyalist, and Franklin spent the last 10 years of his wife's life across the Atlantic from her. (Simon & Schuster, $30)

BOTTOM LINE: Perfect portrait

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