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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
A Penny Pilfered: Picking Ben Franklin's Pocket is an historical biography written by Tom Beattie. Who was Ben Franklin? He looms large in the annals of American history, as indeed Beattie’s biography demonstrates that he should, but Beattie’s work also shows how little most Americans actually know about this enigmatic and clever man. And while there have already been numerous biographies written about Ben Franklin none, I would venture to guess, have captured the spirit of the man in quite the same way as Tom Beattie does in this often humorous, irrepressible and very entertaining work.
I had no idea that Franklin was the 15th of 17 children sired by his father, nor that he was indentured to a rather cruel and unpleasant older brother, James, when he was 12 years old. James was a printer, which meant he also created material and disseminated information. That indentureship, which ended when Franklin ran away after finally despairing of his ill-treatment, did give Ben his start in the printing business at least. And I was amused, and not a little surprised, to discover that Franklin’s kite and key experiment didn’t kill him only because he hadn’t actually attracted a lightning strike, but rather felt the impact of the electrical charges in the stormy air. Still, I’ve always loved that image of the man gallantly flying his kite in the midst of a roaring good thunderstorm.
Throughout A Penny Pilfered, Beattie gives us his take on what passes for politics now and imagines, along with many of us, what Ben would have thought of the way government is conducted today. He also shows us a Ben Franklin unadorned by trappings and owning up to both his bad and good sides. Having read Beattie’s other books, I knew this would be both a special treat and an easily accessible educational experience, and he proved me right once again. My favorite part of this book? That’s easy. While I loved the history and the commentary, and appreciate the extensive bibliography and photos, The Mistletoe: Or No Ugly Loves: A Ben Franklin Christmas Tale made me smile as I read it, and I’m still smiling now just thinking about it. If you’ve read other Tom Beattie books, you'll know to get this one and settle in for a grand read. If you haven’t, you’re in for a rare treat. A Penny Pilfered: Picking Ben Franklin's Pocket is most highly recommended.