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.
on April 10, 2001
This "Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin" does not contain the type of finished material one has come to expect in a finished coherent autobiographical writing covering the whole life span of the individual written by single author over a continuous period of time. This is really source material partially written over distinctly separate periods of time wherein the author, Benjamin Franklin, wrote on two different continents without access to the other parts of his text. With that said, I still think that this book is a wonderful and enlightening piece of work. It should, in my opinion, be considered for placement in every high school and college library, and it should perhaps be wise to consider it for required reading in those institutions. The book tells of the life and times in which Mr. Franklin lived, the attitudes of the colonists and of the British and the ways that things were accomplished in colonial America. It is truly amazing to me to hear first hand how a single individual with only two years of formal education can educate himself as this man did and to rise to make such truly great contributions to society, science, engineering, and politics. I highly recommend this book.
on November 16, 2003
Franklin wrote this autobiography as a letter of instruction in the ways of the world to his youthful and illegitimate son of 40. It only covers the first half or so of his incredible life, so the things that really made him well-known are not covered, but there is plenty here anyway.
Franklin recounts his family's modest life in England and the circumstances that brought them to Boston. He was among the youngest of a very large family, ultimately finding his way to Philadelphia to find work as a printer when an apprenticeship with an older brother turned sour.
We always think of Franklin as being a slightly older statesman among the Founding Fathers, when in fact he was a full generation older than Washington or Jefferson. Unlike popular perception, he was an athletic and vibrant youth, who rescued a drowning Dutch companion and taught swimming to children of London's elite.
Philadelphia in the 1720's and 1730's was a small town, never sure if it would really take off as a settlement. Franklin quickly befriended key politicians who felt Philadelphia had grown sufficiently to have a world-class print shop. He played a key role in the town's development, leading civic groups in establishing libraries, fire companies, meeting halls, and street cleaning services. Of course, he was also the consummate politician, serving in office, and networking his way to his first fortune by publishing government documents and printing the first paper currency. He also had a knack for working with the several important religious sects of that time and place, especially the pacifist Quakers, even though Franklin was a deist.
Franklin was a clever businessman. In today's lexicon, he effectively franchised across the colonies his concept of the publisher/printer who would provide both the content and the ink on paper. By age 30, he had set up his business affairs so that his printing businesses in several colonies were operated by partners and he received a share of the profits, allowing him to pursue other interests.
The autobiography is unfinished, so we don't hear his account of his pursuits of electricity, which made him as famous and well-known as Bill Gates is today, nor his thought on the Revolution. Franklin did play a key role in establishing logistical support to the British during their fight with the French in the New World. At that time and during his years in Europe, he was generally perceived as a Tory supporter.
Read this book to learn how Franklin devoted himself to self-improvement by establishing clubs, lending libraries, a sober lifestyle allowing time for study, and his methods for measuring his personal performance against metrics he had established for a proper lifestyle. One will also gather a new appreciation for the fullness, utility, and richness of the English language when put on paper by a master.
on November 17, 2000
The book is divided into four parts, and is ultimately unfinished; that is the largest disappointment you will find as you read the last sentance. However, the book gives you a true feel for the life and times this great man lived through. The writing is very arbitrary, almost (but not quite) stream-of-conscious, and anecdotal, but enjoyable. Another disappointment is the lack of discussion of the American Revolution and his role in it. But it did give me the desire to read more of this amazing individual, and renewed my sense of pride in my country, as well as its interesting history. Read this book as a beginning, with expectations of it taking your mind to a different level of interest...
on September 9, 2009
While reading "An Incomplete Education" I read that this was the greatest autobiography ever written. Out of curiosity I purchased it and read it and the recommendation was right on. This book was very intriguing and captivating.
The only disappointing part was that the American Revolution and Benjamin Franklin's part was not detailed.
Benjamin Franklin's list of virtues and his application to his life were amazing. Oh that young men today would seek to be so virtuous!
on October 12, 2013
This is more of a collection of separate writings (often decades apart)
rather than a coherent autobiography. Im always fascinated by a glimpse
into historical society so I enjoyed the read, although many sections
are quite detailed and not very interesting descriptions of some particular
civic, political, or academic affair Franklin was involved in.
I think many are interested mainly in Franklin's character and its
ethical foundations- there are quite a few self-reflections
on these such as the value of honesty, sincerity and integrity, etc.
Other things I found interesting was the description of the problem
of alcoholism already 300 years ago (and the rejection by society people
suffering from it met with), the description of the Indian wars (where Indians
are describes as quite ruthless and vile, and, eventually wiped out by alcohol
rather than force), and the corruption and selfish characters
dominating politics and public office ("few in public affairs act from a view of the
good of their country, and fewer still with a view to the good of mankind"),
and the foundation of his friendships (which is always an activity or common interest).
Of great interest is also Franklin's list of virtues which he tried to live by
1 Temperance : moderation in food and drink.
2 Silence : Not unnecessary chatter!
3 Order : Things must be in their place, tasks must be allowed to take their time
6 Industry : Be always employed in something useful! Otherwise you are losing time.
10 Cleanliness : No uncleanliness in body, clothes or habit
11 Tranquility : Dont be disturbed by trifles, accidents, or unavoidable things.
Franklin also strongly recommends anyone desiring to clean up their moral code
to do it one step at a time, with perhaps one week for each point here.
An interesting habit he acquires is to stop using dogmatic expressions like "certainly", "undoubtedly" etc
in debates, and rather use "In my opinion..", "one possibility" etc..which in his opinion
avoids fiery responses and unnecessary conflict (and instead gives a
pleasant and constructive dialogue). This method also actually leads others to more
quickly give up erroneous stances.
The personal trait that Franklin describes as the most strongly manifest in most people is pride.
An any dealings with people, their pride is what you must consider and avoid insulting or
In his newspapers, he is adamant in not writing any libeling or personal abuse, which apparently
was becoming a widespread phenomenon already 300 years ago.
He also notes that doing people favors does not make them more benign to you in any way.
There is an interesting piece of history, where Franklin describes the settlement of the southern
states (like Georgia) to be dominated by cast-outs people in debt or from prison.
Franklin describes the challenges of business partnerships (or other partnerships), which
in his experience tends to end in quarrels and disagreements. His advice to reduce the risk
is to clarify from the starts what is expected, what is exactly the nature of the cooperation.
One value is that one should share inventions freely and generously with others.
Another observation is that people are most happy and content when busy with something, when
idle they start complaining and feeling miserable.
on October 3, 2009
This book is actually less an autobiography in the traditional sense we see today and more of a story told in two sections. The first is a letter to his son, while the second part he seemed to have been encouraged to write by a friend. The first letter is the story from his birth to his arrival in PA, while the send part picks up where the first leaves off and continues until just before our Revolution. But the result is the same - enlightenment about how important this man was.
The prose in this book is, as you'd expect, 18th century so you get plenty of "thee" and "thy" but not to distraction. It is a compelling read and difficult to put down but the language gets tedious. As you can tell by my rating this does not diminish the quality of the book but may affect some potential readers.
In all it's definitely worth your time and effort to understand one of the founding geniuses of our country. Really, this man is a true American hero. Where would we be without a free press, libraries and many of his other contributions? He was a skilled negotiator very much in the right place at the right time.
Still, it would be all the more satisfying to hear his side of the events of the Revolution. I wonder at the gaping hole presented by this. Perhaps he was afraid of arrest or worse? One is left imagining whether there would even be a United States were it not for BF.
It would be interesting if other readers might share other biographical recommendations, if any, that could shed light on the latter part of Mr. Franklin's life. This book is an essential first step towards a complete understanding of one of our founding fathers.
on November 17, 2013
I chose this book belatedly due to my interest in American history, but found it much more valuable in terms of the advice offered in tactical negotiation principles valuable as much in the political and diplomatic as in the business arena. The book could properly be required reading in university courses on business administration, politics or diplomacy.
on May 26, 2007
Ben Franklin is the most amazing figure of American revolution. The essence of American life, a hero, a political figure, a self-made man, a scientist, a diplomat - turns out to be just a guy next door, a neighbor.
I got this book on audio from a local library - and spent 6.5 wonderful hours listening to a friend, a teacher, a wise man. He is entertaining - but serious at the same time, he goes into great details of his dealings with people, business partners, politicians - but is never boring.
Anyone who wants to learn how to connect with people, to become a better person, to grow a business and wealth, to be a good friend - and more - should read this book.
I would recommend an audio format if you have choices - it really turns it into a conversation with Ben Franklin.
on September 6, 2000
This book came to me based on a recommendation by Anthony Robbins in his book "Awaken the Giant Within." And upon reading it, it occurs to me how many gurus have built on, or simply stolen, Ben Franklin's ideas for living a life with purpose, on purpose. (Cheers to Robbins for identifying his mentors and sources so openly.) "The Autobiography of Ben Franklin" is a quick easy read with many rewards. Learn about the man, discover the seed of modern self-help ideas, and see America though a unique set of eyes.
About the writing. . . When Franklin took pen to paper his motivation was to share ideas with his son. In other words, he was writing a letter, and what a joy that it survived as a letter to each of us. Enjoy this book as insights offered by a dynamic individual. And, have the flexibility to enjoy writing that certainly isn't in the pop-culture mold of our century. I myself found this refreshing! If you like ideas and value the role mentors can play in our lives, then read this book today.