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The most frequently recommended one that I've seen is Ben Franklin: An American Life, by Walter Isaacson. I own it, but have not read it (and so cannot personally vouch for it.)


Re Aristotle: we rhetoricians tend to start with the Rhetorics and then move on to the Nichomachean Ethics. But I think the Physiognomics is the most fun. My advice would be to buy something like a big ol' Collected Aristotle and skip around until you find something that grabs you.


I would mildly discourage the actual reading of Aristotle(*) but if you are intent on doing it Ackrill has a nice short introduction to Aristotle ("Aristotle The Philosopher") and edited the standard one-volume paperback of the major works ("The New Aristotle Reader").

Many people like Jonathan Lear's book ("Aristotle: The Desire To Understand") as well: Lear has a slightly different take than Ackrill.

There is a book called "Aristotle's Children" that focuses on the rediscovery of Aristotle in the Middle Ages and his influence on medieval and Renaissance thought, which you might enjoy more than any of the foregoing.

(* You could spend the time walking your new dog. Or roasting a chicken. Or sailing.)


Franklin wrote a pretty good biography of himself.

Start with Poetics


I agree with turboglacier: the best start on Franklin is his own writing. It has a wonderful simplicity to it, combined with incredible insight and genius. The Library of Congress, in Washington DC has a whole exhibit dedicated to this writing. Today it's just called, "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin."


You might try The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, by Gordon Wood.


Poetics is a lovely read, but the notion of arete is really developed in Nicomachean Ethics. You can't go wrong with either, and I respectfully disagree with alkali. go to the source; he is much easier to read than plato (though still by no means easy).


For Franklin, turbo is right on -- the Autobiography is a good read. If you're short of time/concentration, the chapter on Franklin in Founding Brothers is a good teaser on his significance to the early U.S.


Nichomachean Ethics would be a great place to start, but I would also suggest reading Plato’s Republic. It’s interesting to compare both of their opinions regarding virtue. I think that it’s difficult to understand one without the other especially considering that Aristotle rejected some of Plato’s basic tenets. Aristotle’s concept of virtue is derived from eudaimonia, the activity of the soul (virtue in action), whereas Plato’s is the Platonic Idea of the Good which is an innate understanding of perfect ideals such as justice and beauty.

I think that the most lovely and significant chapter in Plato's Republic is book VII where Plato presents a cave analogy where prisoners in a cave watch shadows of puppets on the walls and believe it to be truth, “…such men would hold that the truth is nothing other than the shadows of artificial things.” However, before reading Plato’s Republic, you might want to start with Plato’s Meno where he presents the concepts of The Forms-- concepts of perfection exemplified in ethical principles and geometrical solids, concepts which are innate in people, but need to be drawn out through philosophical discussion.

However, if you are interested in Aristotle’s concepts of ethics and law, follow Nichomachean Ethics with Politics, but I still strongly recommend reading Plato in conjunction with Aristotle. I’d also recommend reading them straight from the source. If you need some discussion to augment these books, perhaps you could get back in touch with your high school friend, Liz T. We both went to the same undergrad college where we studied philosophy.


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