2023 Winner of Peace Corps Writers Award for Best Book of Non-Fiction


Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet

by Michael Meyer
(China 1995-97)


Best Book of Non-Fiction

The incredible story of Benjamin Franklin’s parting gift to the working-class people of Boston and Philadelphia — a deathbed wager that captures the Founder’s American Dream and his lessons for our current, conflicted age.

Benjamin Franklin was not a gambling man. But at the end of his illustrious life, the Founder allowed himself a final wager on the survival of the United States: a gift of two thousand pounds to Boston and Philadelphia, to be lent out to tradesmen over the next two centuries to jump-start their careers. Each loan would be repaid with interest over ten years. If all went according to Franklin’s inventive scheme, the accrued final payout in 1991 would be a windfall.

In Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet, Michael Meyer traces the evolution of these twin funds as they age alongside America itself, bankrolling woodworkers and silversmiths, trade schools and space races. Over time, Franklin’s wager was misused, neglected, and contested — but never wholly extinguished. With charm and inquisitive flair, Meyer shows how Franklin’s stake in the “leather-apron” class remains in play to this day, and offers an inspiring blueprint for prosperity in our modern era of growing wealth disparity and social divisions.

Michael Meyer (China 1995-97

Michael Meyer (China 1995-97)  took a wide route to the story of Benjamin Franklin’s remarkableafterlife, starting when Meyer was sent to China as one of its first Peace Corps volunteers. Beginning with The Last Days of Old Beijing, he authored three critically-acclaimed reported books set there, as well as numerous stories that appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Time, Smithsonian, and on This American Life.

A Guggenheim Fellow and Whiting Award winner, Meyer has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, MacDowell, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Italy.

Currently a Fulbright scholar in Taipei and a fellow at Oxford University’s Centre for Life-Writing, he is working on a biography of Taiwan. Meyer is a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches nonfiction writing. He lives in Squirrel Hill.

Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet
by Michael Meyer (China 1995-97)
Mariner Books
April 2022
$28.99 (Hardcover), $15.99 (Kindle)



Leave a comment
  • Michael, congratulations on your award and your interesting set of experiences in what you call your “afterlife” (a great word), after serving as an early Peace Corps China Volunteer.

  • Congratulations are in order. I’m aware of Peter Hessler’s “Two Years on the Yangtze” who was in China just about the same time–this is one of my favorite RPCV writer books, so I’ll add this to my list of books to read!

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