Publication Date: 16th February 2016
For more than one-fifth of his life, Benjamin Franklin lived in London. He dined with prime ministers, members of parliament, even kings, as well as with Britain’s most esteemed intellectuals—including David Hume, Joseph Priestley, and Erasmus Darwin—and with more notorious individuals, such as Francis Dashwood and James Boswell. Having spent eighteen formative months in England as a young man, Franklin returned in 1757 as a colonial representative during the Seven Years’ War, and left abruptly just prior to the outbreak of America’s War of Independence, barely escaping his impending arrest.
In this fascinating history, George Goodwin gives a colorful account of Franklin’s British years. The author offers a rich and revealing portrait of one of the most remarkable figures in U.S. history, effectively disputing the commonly held perception of Franklin as an outsider in British politics. It is an enthralling study of an American patriot who was a fiercely loyal British citizen for most of his life—until forces he had sought and failed to control finally made him a reluctant revolutionary at the age of sixty-nine.
George Goodwin is the author of numerous articles and two previous histories, Fatal Colours: Towton 1461 and Fatal Rivalry: Henry VIII, James IV, and the Battle for Renaissance Britain. He is currently Author in Residence at the Benjamin Franklin House in London and was a 2014 International Fellow at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies, Monticello. He lives close to London’s Kew Gardens.
I found this book very easy to read: the author chronicles the London years of Benjamin Franklin with a depth and light touch that makes it an absorbing story without it dragging. The politics the 1760’s and 1770’s are a confusing place, but Goodwin does an excellent job of steering the reader through the mire, explaining Franklin’s place in the political and cultural melange of London. Franklin’s personal life is also tracked through the years in London, especially his constant relationship with his wife, Deborah, who stayed in Pennsylvania to look after their affairs while Franklin himself was in London on colony business. Their letter writing only stopped as they entered in their later years as she suffered several strokes and was unable to write.
The book contains no illustrations and has an extensive bibliography and footnotes. It relies heavily on The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Labaree, Cohn et al, 1960 onwards) and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography: An Authoritative Text, Context, Criticism (Edited by Chaplin, 2012) as primary sources, but also used a range of other sources to fill out the story, including letters from friends and contemporaries.
I highly recommend this book.