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Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (original 1791; edition 1941)

by Benjamin Franklin (Author)

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6,248951,240 (3.77)104
Charming self-portrait covers boyhood, work as a printer, political career, scientific experiments, much more. Its openness, honesty, and readable style have made the "Autobiography" one of the great classics of the genre.
Member:McNeeseBibliophiles
Title:Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Authors:Benjamin Franklin (Author)
Info:Barnes Noble Books (1941), Edition: Not Stated
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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin (1791)

  1. 40
    Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson (Othemts)
  2. 10
    Common Sense by Thomas Paine (Teresa_Pelka)
    Teresa_Pelka: Paths by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine parted, in their living experience. The names continue together in history, for the role both men had in American independence.
  3. 10
    The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H. W. Brands (John_Vaughan)
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Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
Man, this got DRY at the end! Who would have thought that the life of a Founding Father would get LESS interesting as time went on!? Frankly (joke intended), I wanted to hear more about "Young Ben"!

The last half of the book followed this basic format: "So then I wrote a bill for a new xyz. The people applauded the bill. I didn't think it was very good, but they all liked it. The bill became a law in 17xx; now, all of the surrounding cities have the same law."

Still, the earlier bits are certainly worth a read. Great insight into the thought life of Mr. $100. ( )
  djlinick | Jan 15, 2022 |
Volume I read included Poor Richard's Almanac as well as a small selection off letters. ( )
  kevn57 | Dec 8, 2021 |
One extra star for the man Benjamin Franklin was... This autobiography is not complete, and, disappointingly, it does not tell the story of his scientific pursuits. But, it gives a clear picture of a totally self-made giant of a man, his thoughts, his philosophy and his failings. Being not initiated in the history of America and the concept of colonies, I was a bit bored reading the political part of this book. There are a lot of things to learn from this work by a true legend. ( )
  aravind_aar | Nov 21, 2021 |
Everyone should read this book. The narrative of Benjamin Franklin’s life is full of adventure, including leaving Boston to make his fortune as a printer in Philadelphia, two extended stays in London, involvement in Pennsylvania politics, scientific experiments and participation in the French and Indian Wars. (The autobiography ends before the American Revolution). Franklin’s observations on colonial life are an important source for information on colonial America and its relationship with Great Britain. The insights on how Franklin achieved his success as a printer and politician provide practical advice that still resonates today. Even his description of his efforts to discipline himself to live a life of virtue and hard work is not only still relevant but also contributes to the overall pleasure to be derived from reading this autobiography.

Franklin addresses his autobiography to his son, and indeed many people would benefit from reading the book when they start out in life. He lays out his daily effort to master thirteen virtues in which every day’s successes and failures were recorded on a chart listing the virtues and every day of the week. He acknowledges that when a friend pointed out that pride was one of his faults, he added humility to his list of virtues to be pursued. His total list consisted of the following twelve virtues in addition to humility: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility and chastity. Concerning order (“Let all your things have their place; let each part of your business have its time“), he bemoans that he was never able to teach himself to keep his papers neat and tidy.

More important than his schema of virtues is the wisdom to be derived from numerous examples of practical choices made in his political and business life. For example, Franklin tells the story of a man in the Pennsylvania Assembly who sought to defeat Franklin’s reappointment as clerk to the Assembly because the man had another candidate he was backing. Fortunately for Franklin, the man’s efforts fell short and Franklin was reappointed. Rather than treat this man henceforth as an enemy, however, Franklin, knowing the gentleman had a valuable collection of books, asked the man if he could borrow a particular book he knew was in the collection. The man was very happy to lend the book to Franklin, and became a close friend who did other favors for Franklin in the future. Franklin draws the lesson that a person who does a kindness for another person is much more likely to do additional kindnesses for that person in the future, while a person who does a kindness for another person is much less likely to receive a kindness in return.

He identifies several actions which he labels “errata.” These include his failure to correspond from London with his future wife, who married someone else and only became Franklin’s wife much later after her first husband died. He also thinks it was a mistake for him when starting out to accept a large sum of money from a friend of his father’s, which because he lent it on to friends who never paid him back he himself was not in a position to pay back, although he was fortunate that his father’s friend did not ask for the money until many years later when Franklin did have the resources to pay.

Franklin’s formal education ended in grade school and his father than began to seek an apprenticeship position for him. (He wanted to go to sea, which his father strongly opposed, and the initial plans for him to become a cleric fell through.) He ended up as an apprentice to one of his elder brothers who was a printer in Boston. (Benjamin was the 10th child in his family.) On moral grounds, he became a vegetarian. Later he discloses that he rationalized eating fish when he saw that the fish to be eaten had in their stomachs smaller fish they had devoured.

Franklin loved to read and pursued his own self education. He learned foreign languages and Latin. (One of his recommendations for education is that students should study Latin after learning a romance language rather than before.) To improve his writing, he would take brief notes of articles in the Spectator magazine, and then rewrite the articles in his own language. He would then compare his writing to the original.

He also loved to discuss issues and ideas with contemporaries. At first he would argue his positions forcefully, but soon learned that this approach was not persuasive. He then adopted the Socratic method and reveled in his ability to put his interlocutors into Socratic dilemmas. He was brought up as a Dissenter but reading books critical of Deism convinced him that Deism was the proper attitude toward God.

On his first stay in London, he got a job with a printer. He lived on Little Britain near Clerkenwell, where the printers were located. He moved to Duke Street closer to the West End when he changed printers. Before returning to America, he gave some swimming lessons (in the Thames!) to sons of aristocrats and concluded he could have made a career out of this. He would swim from Chelsea to Blackfriar’s.

While he was making his way and his fortune in Philadelphia as a printer, he also became involved in a variety of nonbusiness activities. He and his friends formed a discussion group, called the Junto, and these efforts eventually led to subscriptions to start the first library in America and to found a school which eventually became the University of Pennsylvania. He learned early on not to put himself forward as the founder of a new enterprise but rather to create it as an initiative of a number of friends. By not permitting one’s vanity to seek to raise one’s reputation above one’s friends, he found, it was much easier to get general consensus and financial support for new initiatives because a group of individuals could take the credit.

By making his annual Poor Richard’s Almanac entertaining and useful, he “reaped considerable profit” from its sales. He was particularly proud of his newspaper. In a discussion that reminds us of debates concerning the role of free speech in social media today, he states the following:

“In the conduct of my newspaper, I carefully excluded all libeling and personal abuse, which is of late years become so disgraceful to our country. Whenever I was solicited to insert anything of that kind, and the writers pleaded, as they generally did, the liberty of the press, and that a newspaper was like a stagecoach, in which anyone who would pay had a right to a place, my answer was, that I would print the piece separately if desired, and the author might have as many copies as they please to distribute himself, but that I would not take upon me to spread his detraction; and that, having contracted with my subscribers to furnish them with what might be either useful or entertaining, I could not fill their papers with private altercation, in which they had no concern, without doing the manifest injustice.”

During the French and Indian War, he assisted General Braddock in obtaining wagons from Pennsylvania farmers, even though the farmers required Franklin guarantee compensation if the wagons were not returned. General Loudoun, Braddock’s successor put off paying Franklin for a long time, but fortunately he was paid shortly before the guarantee would have been exercised. At this time he made his second stay in London. He noticed how dirt would accumulate in the streets and then become mud in the rains. He came up with a proposal for keeping the streets clean, based on having a drain in the middle of the street. He also developed in Philadelphia an efficient method to operate street gas lights that he recommended be adopted in London.

He relates how initially his discoveries in electricity were overlooked by the British but were acclaimed by the French. He favored teaching young women the basics of business accounting because widows who outlived their husbands engaged in business would need such knowledge to protect their interests.

It is a pity that the autobiography ends before the American Revolution, but apparently his later years are covered by correspondence and other papers. He also had a falling out with his son William during the revolution. William, who was illegitimate, became a loyalist rather than supporting the patriot cause.

Franklin’s autobiography is one of the most important primary sources for historians of the period at the same time that it is a readable and interesting narrative of part of the life of one of the most important founding fathers. The full richness of this autobiography cannot be adequately summarized in a review without repeating the autobiography itself. Start reading it (in my edition it was only 114 pages long) and see if it catches you within the first ten pages. ( )
  drsabs | Sep 15, 2021 |
Bottom line: You should read this if you want to see BF's personality and hear his voice. This book gave me a sneak peek into his humor and personality and I'm so glad I read (listened to) it.

However, if you're looking for a riveting, non-rambling read, this ain't it. ( )
  pmichaud | Dec 21, 2020 |
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» Add other authors (86 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Benjamin Franklinprimary authorall editionscalculated
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
Marshall, QarieNarratorsecondary 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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My writing.
Dear Son, —I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors.
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A stitch in time saves nine
[My father] convinced me that nothing was useful which was not honest.
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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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Charming self-portrait covers boyhood, work as a printer, political career, scientific experiments, much more. Its openness, honesty, and readable style have made the "Autobiography" one of the great classics of the genre.

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A penny saved is
A penny earned, sayeth Poor
Richard. No stamp tax!
(bertilak)

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Yale University Press

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

Editions: 0300098588, 0300001479

Library of America Paperback Classics

An edition of this book was published by Library of America Paperback Classics.

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Tantor Media

2 editions of this book were published by Tantor Media.

Editions: 1400101689, 1400108985

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

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