Friday, August 20, 2010
Everything but a poet
I used to work for the Franklin Day Planner company (long before the merger with Stephen Covey) and they practically idolized his philosophies for self-improvement, turning them into a successful business to help people gain better control over their time and lives (I still consider it one of the best companies I've ever worked for). But as Walter Isaacson points out so well, Franklin was so much more than just one character trait. He consciously worked on improving himself in many ways. He may not have had much success with humility (he couldn't help but take pride in his accomplishments) and he certainly wasn't a decent husband and father to his own family (preferring the surrogate families he surrounded himself with in England and France on his excessively long stays there) but his other accomplishments were many. Although initially reluctant to break ties with England, once he made up his mind there was no turning back and he was as essential to independence as any of the founding fathers.
Isaacson numbers his shortcomings along with his successes and presents a fairly well-balanced portrait of this giant of a man, and makes it all very readable and even entertaining. He addresses the critics of Franklin through the years, such as the "Romantics" of the early 19th century who complained about his folksy image and championship of middle class values (Herman Melville grudgingly called Franklin "everything but a poet"), and since his day Franklin and his thinking has drifted in and out of style. We may not always recognize the pervasive ways he's influenced society today, but he's always there.