Anyone interested in Benjamin Franklin’s long and eventful life would do well to begin by letting Franklin speak for himself. Although it was, like all autobiographies, self-serving, his Autobiography remains as fascinating a piece of early American literature as it was when Franklin wrote it. Any edition will do. Perhaps the best of the lot is edited by Leonard W. Labaree et al. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1964). Labaree was also the first chief editor of the multivolume Papers of Benjamin Franklin, the first volume of which was published by Yale University Press in 1959. Thus far, a succession of editors and their diligent staffs have produced 39 of a projected 47 volumes that include letters to and from Franklin, as well as his published and unpublished work. The volumes are exquisite. They are thorough and beautifully edited. For the period after May 15, 1783, scholars should go to Albert H. Smyth, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 10 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1905–1907).
General biographies of Benjamin Franklin abound. Noteworthy in this regard are Edmund S. Morgan, Benjamin Franklin (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2002); Esmond Wright, Franklin of Philadelphia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press 1986); Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003); and Jonathan R. Dull, Benjamin Franklin and the American Revolution (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010). For less adulatory perspectives on Franklin, see Robert Middlekauff, Benjamin Franklin and His Enemies (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); Gordon S. Wood, The Americanization