One of 17 children, Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706. He ended his formal education at the age of 10 and began working as an apprentice at a newspaper. Running away to Philadelphia at 17, he worked for a printer, later opening his own print shop. Franklin was a man of many talents and interests. As a writer, he published a colonial newspaper and the well-known Poor Richard's Almanack, which contains his famous maxims. He authored many political and economic works, such as The Way To Wealth and Journal of the Negotiations for Peace. He is responsible for many inventions, including the Franklin stove and bifocal eyeglasses. He conducted scientific experiments, proving in one of his most famous ones that lightning and electricity were the same. As a politically active citizen, he helped draft the Declaration of Independence and lobbied for the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. He also served as ambassador to France. He died in April of 1790 at the age of 84.
Larzer Ziff is the author of a number of books on American literary culture, including Mark Twain; Return Passages: Great American Travel Writing, 1780–1910; and The American 1890s: Life and Times of a Lost Generation, which won the Christian Gauss Award. He has also edited modern editions of major American authors, including Franklin, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Emerson, Crane, and Dreiser. He was the first person to have been appointed to the English faculty of Oxford University for the purpose of teaching American literature. Presently Ziff is Caroline Donovan Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins University.