This book got tremendous raves when it came out in 2013; in fact, it topped the Daily Beast’s aggregate list of critic’s end of the year non-fiction book lists, which is why I read it. Well, I have no idea what everyone’s on about. It’s an interesting idea, I suppose. Lepore attempts to reconstruct the life of Benjamin Franklin’s sister, with whom he carried out a lifelong correspondence. She’s trying to get at several things: the way in which women have been written out of history to a large degree; the way in which even incredibly intelligent women were trapped in domesticity while intelligent men made their way into the larger world; the power of reading & writing to bring happiness, intelligence and self-awareness to lives trapped in unfortunate circumstances. But Lepore’s style just really didn’t gel with me. She decides to make a lot of her points more explicit than they should be, in my opinion, and her lens is much, much too wide. She expands the Franklin history to generations before Benjamin & Jane came on the scene and follows the ever expanding family out into distant cousins and nieces and nephews. The book is occasionally incredibly confusing and I think the book needed to be shorter and more tightly focused. Jane is an interesting character, intelligent, witty & well-read in a time when women were expected to be none of those things. But the book meanders and occasionally just gets too flowery. Also, I understand the point Lepore is trying to make by leaving all the spelling errors in the letters and diary entries and such that she reprints, but it does make the book hard to read at times. I really struggled with this book; I loved the premise and wanted to love the book, but it was actually the book I’ve struggled the most with this year just in terms of making myself plow through it. Too bad. Strongly recommended against. 1 ½ stars.
tl;dr – biography of Ben Franklin’s forgotten sister has a great premise, but meanders aimlessly at times and hammers points home at others. 1 ½ stars.