Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet

This book would be fine as a first book on Franklin, because the author starts from not knowing much about him, and touches meaningfully on every fundamental facet of Franklin that I can think of. He goes on to cover his topic very well.

Most Franklin fans are not particularly interested in what happened to his bequests, though I remember one of the evaluators at the 1990 commemoration of Franklin’s passing, and arriving late from the private conference of what was then the focus of a firestorm and falling asleep immediately. The entire room sympathized with him, out of reverence for his stature, and sympathy for the task of deciding what to do with the money Franklin left Philadelphia.

The author goes deeper, surmising that Franklin’s bequests, geared to working-class tradesmen starting businesses, might have been a counterpoint to the other Founders, perceiving the divide already in place in America between those that wanted to accumulate wealth and those that already enjoyed it.

This is a terrific book – a good discussion of Franklin dealing with the same issues confronting us now, and enjoying the richness of this amazing person. HIghly recommended, whether it’s your first book on Franklin or the latest of many.

p.s.: I’ve heard good things about the C-SPAN radio interview with the author, and I enjoyed the book-launch webcast by the American Philosophical Society.

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