Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin

Finalist, National Book Awards 2013 for Nonfiction

Jill Lepore, Book of Ages book cover
ISBN 9780307958341
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House
Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore is the David Woods Kemper ’41 Professor of American History at Harvard University and a staff writer at The New Yorker. Her books include New York Burning, The Name of War, and The Mansion of Happiness. More about this author >

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From one of our most accomplished and widely admired historians, a revelatory portrait of Benjamin Franklin’s youngest sister and a history of history itself. Like her brother, Jane Franklin was a passionate reader, a gifted writer, and an astonishingly shrewd political commentator. Unlike him, she was a mother of twelve.

Benjamin Franklin, who wrote more letters to his sister than he wrote to anyone else, was the original American self-made man; his sister spent her life caring for her children. They left very different traces behind. Making use of an amazing cache of little-studied material, including documents, objects, and portraits only just discovered, Jill Lepore brings Jane Franklin to life in a way that illuminates not only this one woman but an entire world—a world usually lost to history. Lepore’s life of Jane Franklin, with its strikingly original vantage on her remarkable brother, is at once a wholly different account of the founding of the United States and one of the great untold stories of American history and letters: a life unknown.

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Using period spelling and reproductions of archival documents, Jill Lepore gives us a book about books: the paper and the binding, the letters, the printing, the printer. In writing about Jane Mecom, the younger sister of Benjamin Franklin, Lepore investigates how history is written and considers the silence of material that does not exist. The reader is allowed into Mecom’s parlor, where we share her sorrows and yearnings, and hear the shots of revolution outside her window.