The Printer and the Preacher.
This is a review of The Printer and the Preacher by Randy Petersen.
Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield are two fascinating individuals of historical note for America. By simply reading the dust jacket for a biography on either of them, one can easily understand how both of these men reached celebrity status in the America of the early eighteenth century. To learn that the lives of these two men intersected at many points, and that they may have had profound influences on each other as well as their society would certainly be an engaging subject for a biography that anyone with even a slight interest for history would swoon over. And while that might be the expectation, for me the end product in The Printer and the Preacher by Randy Petersen falls flat of that hope.
In reading The Printer and the Preacher it is is clear that Petersen has done his research. The book provides concise biographies of both individuals that do not focus unevenly on one person over the other. Petersen brings to the reader many examples of references from letters, pamphlets, etc. that document from a historical perspective that Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield certainly had many interactions with each other. It is clear that the basis of most of their interactions with each other are business related. Throughout the book, Petersen does a good job of demonstrating to the reader how Whitefield would not have been as successful in America without the printing work of Franklin, and Franklin probably would not have been as successful in the printing business without Whitefield as a business partner to print his material. Their correspondences reflect personal notes in them. But it is in those personal moments that Petersen’s narrative comes up week.
One thing that frustrates me about The Printer and the Preacher is the copious amounts of times that Petersen uses ambiguity as a justification to string pieces together. Throughout the book, one finds phrases like “It might have been…”, “It is probably that…”, “We can likely conclude that…”, etc. While I can empathize with the author that the questions over effects of Franklin and Whitefield’s relationship “would be easy to answer if their letters told us” (p. 218). But they don’t. The blatant conjecture leveraged throughout this book to draw certain conclusions is bothersome to me, regardless of how much academic scholarship is present. Evidence of events does not equate to evidence of context. This aspect was problematic to me and I could not get past it throughout the entire book. While Petersen does attempt to explain some of these notions in the last chapter, it did not do much to ease the frustration I had as I read this book.
Read The Printer and the Preacher for an interesting and concise biographical sketch of two historical greats, Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield. Read the book for perspective on culture and society in the Colonies of the early 1700s. Do not, however, read this book believe you will get exactly what the cover and dust jacket advertise, because in that you will fined yourself disappointed.
I received my copy of this book for free through the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for publishing a review on it. I was not obligated to post a positive review (clearly); the opinions expressed are my own.