100 books like Benjamin Franklin

By Walter Isaacson,

Here are 100 books that Benjamin Franklin fans have personally recommended if you like Benjamin Franklin. Shepherd is a community of 11,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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Book cover of The Path to Power

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

Robert Caro’s book is nothing less than a masterpiece.

I love it for the unique perspective Caro has for his subject, Johnson, which is rare among biographers. Most biographers love their subjects and want their readers to admire their subjects as well. They gloss over their faults or explain them away so the reader is left with the positive impression the biographer has. Not so with Caro. 

Caro admires Lyndon Johnson as a politician but also loathes him; he respects Lyndon’s radical ability to read and manipulate other individuals and Lyndon’s pure, unadulterated pursuit of power and higher office, but he despised Lyndon for his ability to use people, a “morality often bordering on amorality.” In this way, Caro’s biography helps the reader “be as wise as serpents, yet as innocent of doves,” to quote Matthew 10:16. He explains how Johnson committed deeds that were unjust and unethical and condemns…

By Robert A. Caro,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked The Path to Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The greatest biography of our era ... Essential reading for those who want to comprehend power and politics' The Times

Robert A. Caro's legendary, multi-award-winning biography of US President Lyndon Johnson is a uniquely riveting and revelatory account of power, political genius and the shaping of twentieth-century America.

This first instalment tells of the rise to national power of a desperately poor young man from the Texas Hill Country, revealing in extraordinary detail the genesis of the almost superhuman drive, energy and ambition that set LBJ apart. It charts his boyhood through the years of the Depression to his debut…


Book cover of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

Tyler LeBlanc Author Of Acadian Driftwood: One Family and the Great Expulsion

From my list on making you never want to step foot on a boat again.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up on the tip of a peninsula jutting out into the raging Atlantic ocean. Both of my grandfathers spent their lives at sea. The power, and fear, that the ocean inspires has been a constant in my life, and most recently while working on Acadian Driftwood. Spending years working on a story so closely tied to tragedy, and the sea, I’ve consumed a lot of nautical disaster stories. While not everything on the list is a disaster (Nansen got his ship stuck in the ice on purpose) each story will make you rethink whether you ever want to head out to sea.  

Tyler's book list on making you never want to step foot on a boat again

Tyler LeBlanc Why did Tyler love this book?

A small lifeboat is spotted off the coast of Chile in 1821, below the gunnels skeletal men cling to a pile of human bones. Nathaniel Philbrick opens his National Book Award-winning story with an almost incomprehensibly brutal scene and rarely takes a breath for the remaining 300-odd pages. Considered to be the inspiration for Herman Melville's Moby Dick, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is the true story of a ship stove in by a whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and the harrowing survival of some of its crew. 

By Nathaniel Philbrick,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked In the Heart of the Sea as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

The epic true-life story of one of the most notorious maritime disasters of the nineteenth century - and inspiration for `Moby-Dick' - reissued to accompany a major motion picture due for release in December 2015, directed by Ron Howard and starring Chris Hemsworth, Benjamin Walker and Cillian Murphy.

When the whaleship Essex set sail from Nantucket in 1819, the unthinkable happened. A mere speck in the vast Pacific ocean - and powerless against the forces of nature - Essex was rammed and sunk by an enraged sperm whale, and her twenty crewmen were forced to take to the open sea…


Book cover of The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation

Brian Meehl Author Of Suck It Up

From my list on history to evoke “who knew?”.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an author of YA fiction who spent his earlier years “wiggling dollies” (as the Brits say) in the trenches of Jim Henson’s Muppet world and then spent a decade writing children’s television of the PBS kind. After writing my first kids’ novel (Out of Patience), I never looked back. OK, I did glance back for the inspiration for a second novel…

Brian's book list on history to evoke “who knew?”

Brian Meehl Why did Brian love this book?

In 1907, at the Carlisle Indian School (Carlisle, PA), a scrappy Native American football team coached by Pop Warner invented the passing game and revolutionized the game of football as it was being played by the Ivy League schools with deadly results. (So many players were dying from injuries, President Teddy Roosevelt almost banned the game in 1905.) Sally Jenkins’ book is eye-opening history that throws open the doors to the Carlisle Indian School and grippingly tells the story of how the “Carlisle Redmen,” as they were called, became the darling of the nation, and eventually took on Harvard in a legendary 1912 game pitting two young running backs against each other: Jim Thorpe and Dwight Eisenhower.

If you’re a football fan and/or have an interest in Native American history, this book entertains with Pop Warner’s famous trick plays (e.g., the “hidden ball trick”) and the Harvard boys performing the…

By Sally Jenkins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Real All Americans as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Sally Jenkins, bestselling co-author of It's Not About the Bike, revives a forgotten piece of history in The Real All Americans. In doing so, she has crafted a truly inspirational story about a Native American football team that is as much about football as Lance Armstrong's book was about a bike.

If you’d guess that Yale or Harvard ruled the college gridiron in 1911 and 1912, you’d be wrong. The most popular team belonged to an institution called the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Its story begins with Lt. Col. Richard Henry Pratt, a fierce abolitionist who believed that Native Americans…


Book cover of Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had

Brian Meehl Author Of Suck It Up

From my list on history to evoke “who knew?”.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an author of YA fiction who spent his earlier years “wiggling dollies” (as the Brits say) in the trenches of Jim Henson’s Muppet world and then spent a decade writing children’s television of the PBS kind. After writing my first kids’ novel (Out of Patience), I never looked back. OK, I did glance back for the inspiration for a second novel…

Brian's book list on history to evoke “who knew?”

Brian Meehl Why did Brian love this book?

Are you a baseball fan who grumbles about modern players being overpaid and coddled? If so, this book will transport you to baseball’s roughest epoch, and reward you with a ballbag of “Who knew?”s as to how the game was played and fought in the late 1800s. Back then, a different species of men took the field, men who would not recognize our 21st-century diamond dancers, who slip on gloves for every occasion: catching, batting, even sliding.

A quick sampler of Who Knew?s. In 1884, an ump commanded, “Striker-up!” A pitcher could hit a batter as many times as he wanted, and the batter had to take it. The pitcher could be fined for such abuse, but the only way a batter got to first was by hitting the ball. A pitcher could “twirl the sphere” and baffle the hitter until the pitches “twisted his mental trolley.” A twisted mental…

By Edward Achorn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Fifty-Nine in '84 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"First-class narrative history that can stand with everything Steven Ambrose wrote. . . . Achorn's description of the utter insanity that was barehanded baseball is vivid and alive." —Boston Globe

“A beautifully written, meticulously researched story about a bygone baseball era that even die-hard fans will find foreign, and about a pitcher who might have been the greatest of all time.” — Joseph J. Ellis, Pulitzer prize-winning historian

In 1884 Providence Grays pitcher Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn won an astounding fifty-nine games—more than anyone in major-league history ever had before, or has since. He then went on to win all…


Book cover of PrairyErth

Brian Meehl Author Of Suck It Up

From my list on history to evoke “who knew?”.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an author of YA fiction who spent his earlier years “wiggling dollies” (as the Brits say) in the trenches of Jim Henson’s Muppet world and then spent a decade writing children’s television of the PBS kind. After writing my first kids’ novel (Out of Patience), I never looked back. OK, I did glance back for the inspiration for a second novel…

Brian's book list on history to evoke “who knew?”

Brian Meehl Why did Brian love this book?

The “deep map” that Least Heat-Moon unfolds for us in this revelatory book is the history of Chase County, Kansas, home of the largest and least corrupted stand of tallgrass in America. He takes us with him—by car, on foot, and in mind—as he explores this story-rich land, its plants, animals, and the homespun people who have struggled to occupy this forbidding landscape.

In one breath, he reminds us it was the tall grasses of the African savannah that first made humankind stand up. In another, he tells us that the humans who peer across America’s tall grasses have “prairie eyes.” In “a place where you see twenty miles sitting down,” you have prairie eyes if you take in the horizon with stoic calm, knowing it can bring the deliverance of rain or the destruction of a tornado, dust storm, prairie fire (the “red buffalo”), or locusts. 

Least Heat-Moon reports…

By William Least Heat-Moon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked PrairyErth as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER. By the author of Blue Highways, PrairyErth is “a majestic survey of land and time and people in a single county of the Kansas plains” (Hungry Mind Review).

William Least Heat-Moon travels by car and on foot into the core of our continent, focusing on the landscape and history of Chase County—a sparsely populated tallgrass prairie in the Flint Hills of central Kansas—exploring its land, plants, animals, and people until this small place feels as large as the universe.

Called a “modern-day Walden” by the Chicago Sun-Times, PrairyErth is a journey through place, through time, and…


Book cover of American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

Growing up in Virginia, I was forced to admire Thomas Jefferson. By “force,” I mean that we took frequent field trips to Monticello, Jefferson’s home, and Williamsburg, where Jefferson attended the College of William & Mary. I was brought to Jefferson’s homes across Virginia and have seen numerous statues of this great and valuable thinker, writer, and political leader.

But naturally, given Jefferson’s role in writing the Declaration of Independence and yet his ownership of slaves up until the day of his death raises important contradictions for any serious student of American history. In grappling with Jefferson, we grapple with the meaning of America and of America’s ideals for younger students today.  

Thomas Jefferson is, indeed, the most enigmatic of the Founding Fathers. He lived in such a way that he fell deeper and deeper into debt over the course of his lifetime; why?

Thomas Jefferson was a man of…

By Joseph J. Ellis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Sphinx as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For a man who insisted that life on the public stage was not what he had in mind, Thomas Jefferson certainly spent a great deal of time in the spotlight--and not only during his active political career. After 1809, his longed-for retirement was compromised by a steady stream of guests and tourists who made of his estate at Monticello a virtual hotel, as well as by more than one thousand letters per year, most from strangers, which he insisted on answering personally. In his twilight years Jefferson was already taking on the luster of a national icon, which was polished…


Book cover of The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

James Monroe is my favorite Founding Father. He may not be the “indispensable man” like Washington or have penned the most influential words in American history, ”We hold these truths to be self–evident,” but Monroe’s contributions to the United States and American history rank among the most important of the Founding Fathers. 

Per the title, Monroe was the “last” of such influential leaders and the last president in the Virginia dynasty of presidents. Unger provides an excellent, thorough walk-through of Monroe’s life and the influences that shaped his character, as well as the sacrifices Monroe made on behalf of the United States.

Per Unger, Monroe could have used his position and his influence for personal enrichment but regularly turned down such opportunities because he felt these were not worthy of an American leader. In the end, Monroe died with significant debts coupled with a legacy as the last Founding Father. 

By Harlow Giles Unger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Founding Father as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this compelling biography, award-winning author Harlow Giles Unger reveals the epic story of James Monroe (1758-1831),the last of America's Founding Fathers,who transformed a small, fragile nation beset by enemies into a powerful empire stretching from sea to shining sea." Like David McCullough's John Adams and Jon Meacham's American Lion , The Last Founding Father is both a superb read and stellar scholarship,action-filled history in the grand tradition.


Book cover of His Excellency: George Washington

Winston Brady Author Of The Inferno

From my list on contemporary biographies on American leaders.

Why am I passionate about this?

The first biographer, Plutarch, wrote that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire." Biographies help kindle this flame by presenting a person who displayed such character and attempted such noble deeds that the reader should follow their example. The biographer narrates the events of a life well-lived and draws out examples for the reader of the virtues and vices, strengths and foibles, of the person whose life is on display. In this way, biographies help us to be better people by showing us either a model to follow or an example to avoid. 

Winston's book list on contemporary biographies on American leaders

Winston Brady Why did Winston love this book?

Consider Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers more of a series of biographies–portraits of great individuals shaping history for the better–of such individuals during the most important period of their lives and in the history of our country.

Ellis’ masterful work focuses on the relationship between the Founding Fathers in the latter half of the eighteenth century, which, as the title suggests, was fraught with all the difficulties and rivalries one might expect as brothers. Figures like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington were men not unlike the rest of us, driven by passion, ambition, and the vision to see the American republic become a beacon of hope and freedom for the entire world. 

Yet, these passions and contrary views of the American experiment in self-government, at times, spilled out into the open, and Ellis does a masterful job elucidating the rivalries between these great men and what was at stake…

By Joseph J. Ellis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked His Excellency as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

National Bestseller

To this landmark biography of our first president, Joseph J. Ellis brings the exacting scholarship, shrewd analysis, and lyric prose that have made him one of the premier historians of the Revolutionary era. Training his lens on a figure who sometimes seems as remote as his effigy on Mount Rushmore, Ellis assesses George Washington as a military and political leader and a man whose “statue-like solidity” concealed volcanic energies and emotions.

 

Here is the impetuous young officer whose miraculous survival in combat half-convinced him that he could not be killed. Here is the free-spending landowner whose debts to…


Book cover of Alexander Hamilton

Jake S. Friedman Author Of The Disney Revolt: The Great Labor War of Animation's Golden Age

From my list on American history that read like you’re binge-watching.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm an expert in animation history, having written three books on it, dozens of articles, and appeared on TV documentaries about it. I've also been a college professor for about 13 years, so I know what a story needs to maintain interest. These books have that. They're about different chunks of American history, some political, some artistic, all cultural. But they're also focused on the people who made the history, and showing how they got to where they were, and why they matter. These books let me walk in the shoes of subjects, and whisk me back to their time and place. If a book passes the empathy/time-machine test, it has won me over.

Jake's book list on American history that read like you’re binge-watching

Jake S. Friedman Why did Jake love this book?

I learned that he was the only of America’s Founding Father to not come from a well-to-do family.

The book makes him into such a three-dimensional, yet exceptional portrait of a man, Even down to his extramarital affair, the first sex scandal in America. I felt like I could have a beer with this guy by the time the book was over. It breathes life into the exciting time that was colonial America before, during and immediately after the war for independence. It makes the events seem less like a bygone era, and more like a bunch of dudes threatening each other.

Most of all, it casts slavery into a realistic light, pulling no punches on how hypocritical many colonists considered each other for having slaves.

By Ron Chernow,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Alexander Hamilton as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The #1 New York Times bestseller, and the inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Hamilton!

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ron Chernow presents a landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who galvanized, inspired, scandalized, and shaped the newborn nation.

"Grand-scale biography at its best-thorough, insightful, consistently fair, and superbly written . . . A genuinely great book." -David McCullough

"A robust full-length portrait, in my view the best ever written, of the most brilliant, charismatic and dangerous founder of them all." -Joseph Ellis


Few figures in American history have been more hotly debated or more grossly misunderstood than Alexander Hamilton.…


Book cover of To Begin the World Anew: The Genius and Ambiguities of the American Founders

Alex Krieger Author Of City on a Hill: Urban Idealism in America from the Puritans to the Present

From my list on aspirations and unfulfilled promises in America.

Why am I passionate about this?

My interest in the topic of these books has grown across four decades of teaching about cities and urban planning at Harvard, and in active practice as an architect and urban designer. At any moment a city’s very physicality reflects both a culture’s aspirations and the limitations of that culture to achieve those aspirations. Cities are, in a way, compromises in time: among efforts to preserve a past, overcome the challenges of the present, and pursuit of plans for the future. My book focuses on the role of American ideals especially in city and community building, while the five I recommend offer crucial counterpoints about the difficulties and setbacks encountered in reaching for national ideals.  

Alex's book list on aspirations and unfulfilled promises in America

Alex Krieger Why did Alex love this book?

Enormous insight from one of the great scholars of America’s Revolutionary Era, especially as to the complex ruminations and motivations of the nation’s founders as they set out to invent a new society. At the core of their inspiration, ironically resulting from their very provincialism, being separated from European society by an ocean, was their ability to combine a deep sense of pragmatic realism with “a pervasive air of utopian idealism.” From this was formed a nation consistently looking to a better future. A sensibility perhaps best expressed by Thomas Jefferson: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.” 

By Bernard Bailyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Begin the World Anew as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two time Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Bernard Bailyn has distilled a lifetime of study into this brilliant illumination of the ideas and world of the Founding Fathers. In five succinct essays he reveals the origins, depth, and global impact of their extraordinary creativity.

The opening essay illuminates the central importance of America’s provincialism to the formation of a truly original political system. In the chapters following, he explores the ambiguities and achievements of Jefferson’s career, Benjamin Franklin’s changing image and supple diplomacy, the circumstances and impact of the Federalist Papers, and the continuing influence of American constitutional thought throughout the Atlantic…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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