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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by…

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (original 1791; edition 2003)

by Benjamin Franklin

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4,242621,170 (3.78)75
Title:The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Authors:Benjamin Franklin
Info:Touchstone (2003), Paperback, 160 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:nonfiction, american history, memoir

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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (1791)


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Showing 1-5 of 61 (next | show all)
Though the reading is a little rough at times due to an older style of English writing, I found myself entertained and impressed by this life account by Benjamin Franklin. He was a highly-accomplished man of greater wisdom than most. It was interesting to read how he came up with the ideas and then carried them through to form the first public library in Pennsylvania as well as a volunteer fire department and what you might call a handy 'road crew'. Not to mention vast public undertakings that were successful via his participation. What I especially enjoyed was his list of personal virtues--character traits he purposefully molded into himself to become a better husband, friend, neighbor, and individual. Benjamin Franklin was by choice a grand fellow. ( )
  REGoodrich | Nov 23, 2015 |
I first picked this book up along with a good binding of Poor Richard's Almanack quite some time ago but I didn't start reading it until after I heard about it from Christopher Hitchens in his collection, Arguably. Besides calling him the cleverest of the founding fathers, he also had seemingly unearthed new light on the downright humor of Benjamin Franklin. I didn't know a saying like "The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves" was in jest but after I heard that suddenly it made perfect sense. Sadly that and much of the rest of his famous proverbs are not included in this biography which has some humor in it but contrary to what Hitchens said is actually fairly straight forward and worse, a little on the unedifying side. This may be due to its incomplete state. Sure, some of it had some insight into what made the man so successful and for that I've awarded the score I did but it also gets into matters of state which I find to be boring. All in all not what Christopher Hitchens touts it to be or even what Franklin probably wanted it to be and therefore a disappointment. Stay for parts 1 and 2 but leave for parts 3 and 4, and wonder what the book would've looked like complete. As it is, it's just not enough. Of anything. ( )
  Salmondaze | Sep 26, 2015 |
I’m in a little “book club” that meets once a month. I put book club in quotes because it’s just one other friend and myself. (Cassie calls it a man date to keep me humble.) We meet at a bar and, depending on the book, spend about 25%-35% of the night talking about it between other topics. We alternate who picks the book each month which has been really fun. He usually picks books that I’d never consider picking up on my own. (I like to think that I’ve done the same.) One such book my friend picked was The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

I’m not really a history buff. Despite my healthy dose of cynicism about “official accounts” I can appreciate the purpose and role of recorded histories, but it just kind of bores me. Needless to say I wasn’t really excited about reading this book. I’ve seen the Walt Disney movie Ben and Me, so I knew the basic facts about Ben Franklin. He ran a printing press, was an inventor, a statesman, and an enlightened thinker. So what? I was skeptical of how much I’d enjoy the book. How could knowing anything more about Ben Franklin benefit my existence? Thankfully it turned out to be a really charming and delightful read and I walked away appreciating Ben Franklin more than ever. Not so much his “official” achievements, but the man himself.

What broke down my defenses right away was his wit and levity in the opening paragraphs. The book starts off with letter written to Franklin’s son. He first claims that the reason he is recording a history of his life is for his son’s benefit; so that his children can have an easier time tracking the family heritage and history. Almost immediately though, as if breaking from a joke, he admits that since he can’t relive his life “the next thing most like living one’s life over again seems to be a recollection of that life, and to make that recollection as durable as possible by putting it down in writing.”

His honesty and charm continue to increase in the next paragraph where he admits the real reason for the book.

“Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others that are within his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life.”

The book was written at various points between 1770 and 1790, and because of the disjointed nature of the composition suffers from large gaps in time. Franklin begins at his birth and describes much of his childhood relationships with his father and brothers. He covers a multitude of events including some of the well known ones like flying a kite in a lightning storm and his time as a printing press apprentice. Surprisingly most of those famous events from school history books are given little or no time at all. It’s almost as if Franklin himself didn’t find the events all that important or momentous.

What Ben did find important enough to record were his attempts at self discipline and social engineering. His first exploit was as a young apprentice at his brother’s printing house. Benjamin wanted to publish some of this thoughts in his brothers paper, but his older sibling dismissed him as childish. Not to be thwarted — another endearing trait of Franklin — he wrote letters to the editor using a pen name. His older brother and friends found the letters so thought provoking and well written that they published them. Later on we see Benjamin use that same cleverness to procure his own printhouse, put his old boss out of business, and to playfully manipulate the diets, work patterns, and attitudes of co-workers and friends.

One accomplishment Franklin was most proud of was his Junto club which he formed with a small group of friends to debate politics, philosophy, and morality. Franklin handpicked the original group from diverse occupations and chose readers with sharp minds and a desire for self improvement. The group met on Fridays and used a list of questions to guide discussions. Often these meetings led to great community action and organization. It spawned many social changes and helped to birth the public library and volunteer fire department we have today.

My favorite section of the book however, was Ben’s “arduous project of arriving at moral pefection.” Of course this seems silly, but almost every person I’ve ever know who is as systematic and clever as Benjamin Franklin has tried it. I certainly find a great joy in order and processes myself and the idea of codifying morality is certainly a struggle I can relate to. Franklin sets about in it in timelessly, geeky fashion. He developed the following list of thirteen virtues and precepts that he found to be desirable.

TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He then created a chart with a column for each day of the week and a row for each virtue. Starting with only one virtue in the first week and cumulatively adding a virtue as he completed each week, He tracked each time he failed with a little black dot in the corresponding day. Only when he had made it through an entire week without any failures could he add the next virtue. Needless to say he didn’t fair well in such a lofty endeavor.

“I enter’d upon the execution of this plan for self-examination, and continu’d it with occasional intermissions for some time. I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish. After a while I went thro’ one course only in a year, and afterward only one in several years, till at length I omitted them entirely.”

This book is filled with many more of Benjamin’s experiments and thoughts. His stories not only give you a clear insight into man himself, but also the stark difference between his time and ours. While I’m not that interested in history, I did find it much more compelling to read first hand accounts of historical events and times rather than the usual post-event retellings generally presented in history books.

As with any autobiography there is a degree of bias. Despite that, the work still reveals many of Franklin’s flaws and failures. It leaves you with the impression of a driven and ambitious person, sometimes arrogant and egotistical, but always likeable and humorous. If you like history or even just biographies you will certainly find much to enjoy in Ben Franklin’s autobiography.
  erlenmeyer316 | Sep 21, 2015 |
I don't know why this is rated so highly.

This book is supposed to be a collection of letters that he sends his son in the hopes of teaching him about the world. But I didn't feel anywhere that he's teaching him anything about life. Throughout the letters he's talking about what things he's doing. It feels more like he's just mentioning his achievements and what all problems he sorted out rather than explaining how he solved the problems, what he felt when he faced them, how he went about understanding his issues. If I merely tell you "I built that building, and then one guy was constantly harassing me so I put him in his place, and then I made friends with some political parties, and then I asked them to deal with that guy" then I doubt it'll help anyone who's reading it (besides the entertainment for which I think there are much better books out there anyway).

I read a few chapters and found the writing style to be primitive and full of unnecessary details. This amount of detail merely serves as a distraction (at least to me). I lost interest in reading this book quite early on. Then I started skimming through the chapters and found it doesn't hold my interest at all. So I searched online for a summary and found a guidebook somewhere which explained the entire content of the chapters. On reading it I felt glad that I hadn't spent time going through this actual book. Because the whole writing feels like a self-obsessed rant.

He talks about the hardships he faced and the strengths he had. It felt like there was very little that he had to struggle himself. His uncle took him to some person so he could learn a trade when he was a kid. Someone doing so much for a kid without him having to struggle? That too an uncle? My ass! Then later on his teacher helps him out. No one ever did that for me. My dad hardly gave us money for surviving. I saw my mother break down at times and yet she kept on trying to earn money for us. I was sexually abused by another guy (gay?) when I was a kid in my school. Grew up in a horrible school where we were beaten and belted. I wanted to run away but in my country I wouldn't have a future if I ran away. I'm 30 now and struggling with a couple of skeletons that my childhood handed me. I don't care a rat's ass about this loser politician who hardly struggled. Things just kept going right for him and he kept eating the cake he was served everywhere. His struggles are nothing compared to the average youth of today.

This book is outdated for our times IMHO. ( )
  MugenHere | Jul 12, 2015 |
"Started From The Bottom" in book form, basically. Franklin's own 4-page outline of his life is amazing. ( )
  trilliams | May 30, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (86 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Benjamin Franklinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Appelbaum, StanleyEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bennett, James O'Donnellsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colby, Homer W.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dole, Nathan H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Labaree, Leonard W.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leary, LewisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lemisch, L. JesseEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pine, Frank WoodworthEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sharp, WilliamIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thurber, SamuelEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Van Doren, CarlIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wayne, FreddNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wecter, DixonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ziff, LarzerEditor.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dear Son, --I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors.
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This is "The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin", by Benjamin Franklin. Please do not combine with the Franklin/Woolman/Penn volume from The Harvard Classics.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486290735, Paperback)

One of the most popular works of American literature, this charming self-portrait has been translated into nearly every language. It covers Franklin's life up to his prewar stay in London as representative of the Pennsylvania Assembly, including his boyhood years, work as a printer, experiments with electricity, political career, much more.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:51 -0400)

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One of the most popular works of American literature, this charming self-portrait has been translated into nearly every language. It covers Franklin's life up to his prewar stay in London as representative of the Pennsylvania Assembly, including his boyhood years, work as a printer, experiments with electricity, political career, much more.… (more)

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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300098588, 0300001479

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2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400101689, 1400108985

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