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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Signet Classics) by Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Signet Classics)
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Signet Classics)
Benjamin Franklin
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Signet Classics (September 1, 1961)
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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Signet classics) [mass_market] Franklin, Benjamin [Sep 01, 1961]

  • Celore
It's a little presumptuous to write a "review" of a book as historically important as this, so I'll just give a few reasons why you should read it.

It's well-written and engaging, even 200+ (nearing 300+; Franklin was born in 1706) years later. It stops in 1760, well before his involvement with the Revolution, but it covers in detail his youth, apprenticeships, the formation of his philosophy and ideals, and his path from poor roots to business and social success -- the first telling of the American Dream, the idea that a poor young man could Find His Fortune in the New World through enterprise, wisdom, and work.

There is a high degree of self-hagiography here, and it would be amusing to tally up (for example) how many times Franklin praises himself vs. how many times he advises on the virtue of humility. He smooths over controversial topics like his illegitimate son, he doesn't mention his membership in the Freemasons, etc. The construction is also a bit rambling ("Then I did this thing. Next, I did another thing. Then I did a third thing"), but Franklin simply did so many interesting things -- even in this short slice of his life -- that the book is interesting despite that. There's a great deal of discussion on his scientific and inventive accomplishments, and he talks at length about his development of his own personal moral code and how he achieved business success (along with Franklin's Personal Method You Can Use for Self-Improvement -- in some ways, this is the first self-help book!)

All in all, this is very much worth reading, and gives a compelling picture of Franklin's life and times. I particularly liked the picture Franklin draws of contemporary American society -- free, open, and small, with most people in most towns all knowing each other, and business opportunities are wide open for anyone with industry and pluck. I'm not sure how similar modern-day America still is to Franklin's Philadelphia, but it's certain that Franklin -- and this book -- helped set the image that we still *want* to believe America conforms to. And for that alone, it's worth reading.

If you like this book, you might also be interested in reading Alexis de Tocqueville's _Democracy in America_, for another view of colonial-era America, or any of Mark Twain's nonfiction (_Life on the Mississippi_, _Roughing It_, etc.), for similar accounts of America's growth and development a hundred-odd years further on. Any of those should be available as a free Kindle download.
  • krot
I once read that Benjamin Franklin's autobiography is widely considered to be the best autobiography ever written. I have not read all the autobiographies ever written, but I can say confidently -- nay, *enthusiastically* -- that his is by FAR the best of those that I have read. In my opinion, it is one of the best books of any kind ever written.

Benjamin Franklin is known for grand accomplishments in science, engineering, government, diplomacy, and concern for fellow man. There are reasons for these accomplishments: he had great capacities for reason, consideration of others, and determination to make the most of his gifts through hard work. It is no wonder that this man could write so engaging a work as this recollection of events in his life.

I first read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography when I was a young man of about 20 years old looking for a personal cure for insomnia. Mission: failed miserably. Once I got past the differences in language (caused by over 200 years of misuse), I found myself so engrossed in this story that sleep was the last thing on my mind. It was a story written not just with a critical eye for detail for the benefit of historians; it was originally meant only for his son, so it came from the heart.

In devouring this book, I discovered not only a great measure of the depth of his understanding of the world around him -- and us -- but a feeling of familiarity with the man himself. I learned about Ben Franklin -- and not just his accomplishments. His accomplishments and his interactions with other people are documented copiously elsewhere, but here you learn something about his ways of thinking that you cannot learn from a third party. For example, who could blame such an accomplished man for being proud of all that he gave (quite literally, without royalties or other compensation) to the world? Yet our man, Ben, was not driven by pride. (It pains me not to give away this part of the story, as it was perhaps my favorite, but you should read it in his words, not mine, for full appreciation. Besides, that would qualify as a "spoiler.")

If you have even a passing interest in Ben Franklin (as I suspect you have, since you are reading this review), you owe it to yourself to read his autobiography.

A word of caution: you may find yourself wanting to learn more about this man, but find others' biographies of him to be lacking in one regard or more. I have read a few of them (some much better than others) and won't review them here, but I will say this much: ALL of them left me wondering how accurate they were, regardless of the biographers' reputations. I did get the sense from Ben Franklin's writing that he was being honest and -- let's face it -- no one in our world or his knows or knew better than he exactly what he thought or experienced.

Another word of caution: you may find yourself wanting to learn more about early American history and the very real people who shaped our nation and gave so much of themselves to mold a society where individual freedom trumped government interference in people's lives. This should be required reading in American History classes across America.

If I were to be stranded on an island with only three books, I would, without hesitation, choose this as one of the three.