on 11 September 2009
This is just a great book. All I knew about Ben Franklin before reading it was he flew a kite in a storm. Reading it gave me a great insight into what America and indeed what the world was like in the 18th Century. Guess what, the things we take for granted like electric lights, phones, the Internet and fast global transport were not about 250 yeas ago. What was about was greed and self indulgence and love. It is a book all about self-improvement, community improvements and the importance of prudence and diligence. Because of his nature and ethics, Franklin avoids boasting about his achievements or dwelling on his disappointments in life but you will feel these come through the pages as a reader. I don't think you could read this book without being humbled and fascinated by the efforts and determination of our ancestors. I promise that despite the passing of over 200 years since his death in 1790 you will relate to his writings.
on 21 January 2009
I bought this autobiography after it was recommended in Dale Carnegie' classic book 'How to win friends and influence people' and I wasn't disappointed. To quote Dale Carnegie from the aforementioned title:
'If you want some excellent suggestions about dealing with people and managing yourself and improving your personality, read Benjamin Franklin's autobiography-one of the most fascinating life stories ever written, one of the classics of American literature.' p. 133
Although the autobiography is unfinished, there is a time line at the back of the book, outlining the key events in Franklin's life. The book itself can double up as a self-help book if you follow Benjamin Franklin's plan to live a virtuous life. There is a list of 13 virtues and he worked on one at a time until he became efficient in them all. It's a interesting read, some of his suggestions on living are extremely beneficial and the price isn't bad either.
on 16 September 2010
i was looking for an overview of Ben Franklin's life so i could generally get to know more about him. this autobiography is made up of 4 letters in which he runs through his impressive life story. if you want depth on any of the major events/invetions in his life then this isn't the book for you. if you want a read you can get through quickly and get a taster for what he's about then i found in enjoyable in that sense. plus it's cheap!
on 1 April 2011
Benjamin Franklin is probably better known in the USA than outside of it. He was a businessman, a scholar and printer, a linguist, a scientist and inventor, and a public spirited individual who was responsible for the founding of many of the public services of the city of Philadelphia. He served his community and the fledgling United States with distinction and honour, both at home and abroad.
This book is based upon a number of pieces that he wrote throughout his life, and was put together afterwards. It is in the style of the time without chapters, which can make it a little difficult to follow. It is written in quite a dry way, but I found this to confirm the humility which was a key part of his thinking.
Throughout the book, you see his interest in improving the lot of his fellow man, his interest in knowledge and his keen desire for tolerance in religious thought. There are indications of an interest in adventure and he also details how he helped form some militia units for the defence of the country, and supported the regular British army in the fighting against the Spanish, French and Native Indians.
This is a great little book; not always easy to read but well worth the effort.
In this candid autobiography, B. Franklin unveils his vision and tactics in business, political, social, religious and sexual matters. His colonial viewpoint stands in sharp contrast with his `moral' attitude.
B. Franklin is the perfect example of the fulfillment of the American Dream. Working from the age of 10 in his father's business, he goes to New York, `a boy of 17, without the least recommendation or knowledge of any person, with very little money in my pocket' and becomes a wealthy and influential businessman.
Character, colonialism, protestant influence
He was a ferociously independent mind with a huge aversion for arbitrary power. He was a generous, good-hearted man, who refused to patent his inventions, because `as we enjoy great advantage from the invention of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.'(!)
But he was not so generous with the aboriginal US population: `rum may be the appointed means to extirpate these savages in order to make room for cultivators of the earth.'
He was a perfectionist, wanting to become completely virtuous. He even composed a catalogue of moral virtues (13) with temperance (eating, drinking), frugality (no waste), industry (useful job) and chastity (sex only for health and offspring).
Business, general tactics
Under the influence of his father, he became a writer (of almanacs) and a printer and later launched his own newspaper.
He never published pamphlets or proposals in his own name, but under pseudonyms like `some publick-spirited gentlemen', thereby avoiding `the presenting myself to the publick as the author of any scheme for their benefit.'
Another tactic was: `I shall never ask, never refuse, nor never resign an office.'
He sees through the political game: `while a party is carrying on a general design, each man has his particular private interest in view. Man primarily considered that their own and their country's interest were united.'
In religious matters, he was a deist, but never became a member of a sect, because he saw their blatant hypocrisy: `each sect grievously calumniated other sects' and `every other sect supposing itself in possession of all truth.' Even the Quakers got easily rid of their principle `that no kind of war was lawful.'
Candidly he confesses that `that hard-to-be-governed passion of youth hurried me frequently into intrigues with low women, which were attended with some expense besides a continual risque to my health.'
For marriage, `the business of a printer being generally thought a poor one.' `I was not to expect money with a wife, unless with such a one as I should not otherwise think agreeable.'
These sincere autobiographical notes are a must read for all those interested in US history.
on 25 October 2007
This book is a kind of time machine that puts you straight into the Eighteenth Century. Benjamin Franklin comes over as a fearless and open character, although he is at pains to present himself as a solid and successful businessman in the printing industry. He is very much a man of his time. He concerns himself with God and self-improvement, then after he marries he says how glad he is that he did not catch VD from 'certain low women' beforehand. This, certainly consciously, echoes St Paul's advice on why people should marry.
Within the text are probably whole layers of meaning and allusions to contemporary events and news culture that are lost on twenty-first century readers. He is certainly working within religious and classical traditions of what an autobiography should be: a conversation with God, carried on in public? or moral examples and advice to the young.
Sometimes he is having a laugh at the autobiographical and literary form itself. For example, it is a commmonplace of Eighteenth Century Literature that you-the writer-had no intention of publishing your book until you were prevailed upon by your friends or the public. Franklin opens the second section of his autobiography with a letter purportedly from a Quaker who says that a life of Franklin would be worth even more than 'all Plutarch's Lives put together.'This must have raised a laugh in his local club, his 'junto' as he calls it.
However, within the same pages, Franklin describes, clearly with pride, how he swims from Chelsea to Blackfriars in London-which is quite a physical feat, it being two or three miles. He is also at some pains to place much of his financial success on hard work, simplicity and the avoidance of alcohol. These aspects of his life would bequite important for his Low Church readers.
Interestingly-as negative examples- he reports that his London workmates routinely down six pints of strong ale a day, both at home and in the printing office. For his contemporaries, this was unusual from the point of view of the English printers being not just drunkards, but -for his audience- very old fashioned. English people in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuroes -including babies hence the phrases 'tiny tots' 'small beer' etc.- drank beer and ale as drinking street pump water was correctly suspected to cause disease.
Here, through the implication that beer drinking is old fashioned and unhealthy, especially when compared to American coffee drinking, Franklin is presenting his American readers with the idea that-once again- the Colonies, rather than being a backwater, are more modern that their British counterparts in the Imperial Capital of London.
At the heart of his political thinking seems to be the moral rather than political idea that with moral virtue-and thus God- on your side, you are unstoppable, and sees the United States' future greatness to lie in this.
He takes pains to connect political greatness with the moral quality and education of individual citizens, laying particular emphasis on literacy, and reports with pride how he helped to establish the first lending library in the United States, in Philadelphia.
As a moralist rather than a politician, his republican beliefs do not seem as universal as, say, those of revolutionaries like Robespierre or Tom Paine. For him, the American Republic seems to be uniquely American. At one point he is pleased to report, and say that it is an aspect of his success in life that he has dined with a king, and names him as the King of Denmark. Tom Paine would never have dined with a king, unless it were to poison him!
Now the non-PC bit as bang go his green credentials. The 1726 Journal has Franklin helping to kill and eat dolphins while travelling by sea. He says they are good to eat, and regards them as fish rather than mammals.
on 17 March 2011
Although Benjamin Franklins autobiography deals mainly with his earlier years,and not much about his later life it is a really good insight into one of the founder fathers lives. Surely Franklin must have been one of the early exponents and advocates of the so called American Dream.
Unafraid to fail, keen to learn, dismissive of the drunk ignorant and lazy, Franklin shows us what it was like to survive and live in his time. The book also shows that good and kind people can progress. Franklins desire to better, not only himself but those around him, are the qualities indeed of a great man.
If you read a timeline on his life, he truly was a great, whether it wasthe sheer amount of projects he was involved in, or the inventions he had a hand in. This book was an unexpected little gem
on 19 December 2013
The mind set of Benjamin Franklin is quite unusal and extremely impressive. He explains what he did and why but he doesn't tell you what he had to evercome emotionally to persevere with his endeavours. I intend to read a biography about him now to gain an onlookers view point.
Be prepared to possibly feel inadequate in your achievements when you read this and hopefully inspired. It is worth bearing in mind though that he was in a unique place and time to be able to accomplish what he did.
On other thing I would like to mention, I am born and bred an Englishman with at least 10 generations of the same behind me, I am proud to be English and I am patriotic. However, there is a certain mind set among Englishman that has persisted for many generations that is our achillies heel when these individuals attain certain levels of power and that is, "arrogance". It is through shear arrogance in some members of the ruling classes that lost us America and I would add that in retrospect through their actions they deserved to lose America.
On a similar theme I highly recommend reading 'Josiah the great' by Ben Macintyre. This is the real story who inspired Rudyard Kiplings story 'The man who would be king'. If you read this, you will probaly conclude why Brisitsh forces will never win in Afghanistan or for that matter why any other nation will. The English arrogance with regard to Afghanistan over the last 2 centuries is astounding.
On a very positive patriotic note, where Engishmen excel like no other nationality I would say is in 'engenuity'. One fantastic example is in the story of 'The Phantom major, David Sterling and the SAS Regiment'. Another exceptional individual.
on 10 April 2012
As one of the "discoverer" of electricity and one of the Lunar Society in 18th century, I picked up this book with anticipation. It hardly mentions his work on electricity and does not mention his involvement in British society.
For all its selectivity it is a fascinating book about a self made man with few privileges who went on to have huge impact on framing the US Constitution.
As the youngest of 17 children born in Boston, USA to a tallow chandler, he left school at 10 and was bound as an apprentice to his brother, a printer. At 17 he ran away to Philadelphia and from there made his own way in life establishing his own printing business, importantly his own newspaper "the Pennsylvania Gazette" and position in Philadelphia society.
The autobiography focuses on his early years. It is full of homilies on self improvement, on the art of conversation, and on reading and work. In 1732 he began issuing his famous "Poor Richard's Almanac" borrowing and composing pithy utterances of worldly wisdom. In 1758 the Almanac was published as "Father Abraham's Sermon" and is now regarded as the most famous peice of literature produced in Colonial America.
But it was a raw and hard life. The travails of establishing a business from nothing and with very tough communication. For example Boston was a fortnight sailing from Philadelphia. On one typical journey "we struck a shoal in going down the bay and sprung a leak; we had a blustering time at sea , and were obliged to pump almost continuously, at which I took my turn".
As he became more involved with public affairs he founded an "American Philosophical Society" for the purposes of enabling scientific men to communicate their discoveries to one another. His electricity discoveries gave him a reputation in Europe. But his fame as a statesman rests on his connections and negotiations with the British and the French. "The Colonies" (i.e Americans) went to enormous lengths to work with the British Government and the King and try to persuade them to avoid the iniquitous and one sided taxation that led to the American Revolution. Despite his efforts at compromise, Franklin became second only to George Washington as the champion of American Independence.
A very selective and incomplete autobiography but so illuminating.
on 4 December 2012
The fire of Mr. Franklin's intellect is matched by his wit, compassion and humaneness. How many giants of history seem to possess such a concomitant talent for just plain fun? Voltaire, Swift, Wilde and Feynman spring to mind. Subversives who take risks and still find the joy in life are such a very rare breed.