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 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 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 16 May 2014
What constitutes a man whose made almost eternal footprints in our history? Good fortune? Parents? Genetics? Or is it the daily, monthly, yearly life of a man who reasoned his fortunes were directly proportional to his work level, thinking, and ethics...something sadly lost in out iPhone society. Read this and consider how timeless the records of Dr. Franklin are...purely historical things aside, could you do some of the things he did ? Try to get your kids to read this instead of what Kanye West said today....
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.
on 26 April 2013
Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. His autobiography comprises manuscripts (only later collated into book form) essentially of advice by example, which summarise his life, achievements and values. It would probably be helpful to have the historical background to Franklin's life in mind as this book is not intended as history.
I was very impressed by Franklin's level-headed modesty, but equally by his creativity - a somewhat unusual combination of qualities. Also, and not least, by his use of plain English.
Strongly recommended for adding flesh to the historical facts of Franklin's life.
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.