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BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

AN AMERICAN LIFE

A little less sophisticated than H.W. Brands’s The First American, but a solid contribution to Frankliniana all the same.

Nicely done life of “the most accomplished American of his age.”

Benjamin Franklin may have been among the leading revolutionary firebrands of his time, but, suggests Aspen Institute president Isaacson (Kissinger, 1992), he wouldn’t be at all out of place in an office park or perhaps Rotary Club meeting today. That doesn’t mean to say that Franklin was a proto-Republican, but instead a practical-minded businessman who found much virtue in striking compromises, building consensus, and networking—and who pinched pennies with the best of them, adopting vegetarianism only so that the money saved on meat could go into his savings and studies. Yet, all that said, Isaacson reminds us that Franklin essentially retired, wealthy and content, in his early 40s and devoted the rest of his days to doing acts of public good, pressing the cause of meritocracy in the service of “social mobility rather than an established elite” and furthering the cause of American independence at considerable risk to his property and person. Isaacson charts the trajectory of Franklin’s political thought on all kinds of matters; he notes, for instance, that although Franklin enthusiastically accepted advertisements for slave sales in the newspapers he published and owned “one or two household slaves off and on for much of his life,” he came to see the incompatibility of such commerce with the revolutionary ideals he espoused and ended his days as a committed abolitionist. Similarly, as the very exemplar of a self-made man, Franklin gave much thought to the inequalities wrought by inherited fortune, arguing “that the accumulation of excess wealth and the idle indulgence in frivolous luxuries should not be socially sanctioned.” Alas, Franklin’s arguments did not carry the day in most particulars, but he remains an ideal American type—and one well served by this sympathetic and admiring study.

A little less sophisticated than H.W. Brands’s The First American, but a solid contribution to Frankliniana all the same.

Pub Date: July 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-684-80761-0

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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NIGHT

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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INTO THE WILD

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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