Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson (Simon and Schuster, 2003) is a fantastic portrait of a complex man. I have always loved Ben Franklin (ever since I read Ben and Me by Robert Lawlor as a child). Reading Isaacson’s biography helped me to see why I liked it him so much: he was, in general, a likeable man.

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Kissinger by Walter Isaacson

Real Politics

Recently, I’ve been watching The West Wing, which aired on NBC from 1999 to 2006. We’re currently watching season 5 of 7. This television show follows the eight White House years of Democratic President Jed Bartlet and his staff. Of course, being a television drama, President Bartlet has an incredibly interesting presidency (the details of which I won’t divulge in case you are intrigued and care to watch the show).

The most intriguing part of this show is watching and learning about political processes. I don’t know how accurate the portrayals are of the West Wing, White House, and Congressional debates, working situations, and characters. But with each episode, I wonder what the real political situation is for the subject.

Because I have been so absorbed by this fictional political situation, I decided to read about the real thing. I really enjoyed reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Einstein a few months ago, and I was eager to read another of Issacson’s biographies—this time a biography of Henry A. Kissinger, national security adviser to Nixon and later Secretary of State to Nixon and Ford.

I’ll begin my review by saying that I don’t recommend this book, although I am glad I read it. (Does that make sense?)

It’s not that Isaacson did a poor job. In fact, I think his analysis and portrayal of Kissinger is incredibly well researched and thorough. He does a great job of avoiding his own commentary and opinion. The problem is that Henry A. Kissinger was a man without morals. He was not a likeable man for me.Continue Reading

Einstein by Walter Isaacson

The Mind of a Genius

Even at his death, Albert Einstein was regarded as someone with an incredible brain: the pathologist performing the autopsy decided, without asking permission, to embalm Einstein’s brain. For years, he kept the brain and drove around the United States touring with it. A few studies were done on the brain to try to determine what made Einstein a genius, but little has been proven scientifically. Eventually, in the late 1990s, Einstein’s brain was returned to the Einstein family (see Epilogue, pages 544-551).

In reading Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, I’ve likewise been intrigued by Einstein’s genius. Why is it we equate “Einstein” with “genius”? What made him so smart? It seems clear to me that, as Isaacson opines in his conclusion, Einstein’s genius was in his mind and not necessarily his brain.

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