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Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography (Norton Critical Editions) [Paperback]

by Benjamin Franklin, J. A. Leo Lemay, P. M. Zall
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)


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Book Description

January 17, 1986 0393952940 978-0393952940 annotated edition

Franklin’s Autobiography is the only enduring best-seller written in America before the nineteenth century, as well as the most popular autobiography ever written.

As such it deserves to be offered to twentieth-century readers in the most accurate form possible, and so it is, in this Norton Critical Edition, the first text to be edited directly from the manuscripts, rather than perpetuating the errors of previous editions.

The text is fully annotated, and the reading is assisted by helpful footnotes, biographical sketches, and two maps.

In "Backgrounds", the editors collect Franklin’s most important reflections on the Autobiography’s purpose, some anecdotes, and a number of Franklin’s statements on wealth, the art of virtue, and perfection.  Materials in "Criticism" range from contemporary opinions—which reveal that readers were divided then as they are now about the art of the Autobiography—to essays written in the twentieth century.

Nineteenth-century opinions include those of John Keats, Edgar Allen Poe, Mark Twain, and William Dean Howells, among others.

The twentieth-century materials include D. H. Lawrence’s celebrated essay, an excerpt from Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and the perspectives of such recent critics as Charles L. Sanford, Robert Freeman Sayre, John William Ward, and David Devin.


Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Benjamin Franklin was a writer, inventor, political theorist, diplomat, and Founding Father of the United States. He wrote under the pen name of Poor Richard from 1732 to 1757.

J.A. Leo Lemay is H. F. du Pont Winterthur Professor of English at the University of Delaware. His publications include Men of Letters in Colonial Maryland, A Calendar of American Poetry in the Colonial Newspapers and Magazines, and The Frontiersman from Lout to Hero. He has just completed New England’s Annoyances: America’s First Folk Song and is writing a book on the creation of American humor, 1607–1800.

P.M. Zall, Professor of English and American Studies, California State University, Los Angeles, has edited Nathaniel Ward’s Simple Cobler of Aggawam in America, Comical Spirit of Seventy-Six: The Humor of Francis Hopkinson, Ben Franklin Laughing: Anecdotes from Original Sources by and about Ben Franklin, and most recently, Abe Lincoln Laughing. He is compiling a bibliography of English and American jestbooks.

Product Details

  • Series: Norton Critical Editions
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; annotated edition edition (January 17, 1986)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393952940
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393952940
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.2 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #147,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding edition of a classic American text August 10, 2000
Format:Paperback
Anyone who has ever taken a literature class in college knows the Norton Critical Editions: an absolutely first-rate version of the text, a healthy supply of contemporary responses and letters, and the best essays yet written about the text. This edition of Benjamin Franklin's "Autobiography" is no exception. The quintessential American Enlightenment figure, Franklin is far more complex than most people think, and far funnier. When it came time to write the Declaration of Independence, the Congress wouldn't give it to Franklin alone, in large part because they were afraid he'd hide a joke in it. One of his most infamous pieces of writing was under the guise of a prostitute being brought before the court for having yet another illegitimate child -- and then attacking the court for making it necessary for her to pursue her profession! And the letter Franklin wrote his own illegitimate son about how to keep a mistress is a classic in and of itself. The only great flaw in the autobiography is that it stops before Franklin ever reaches the Revolutionary War, and thus we don't have the inside story of that perilous time. But anybody wanting to understand Franklin's life, the means to wealth, or the evolution of a brilliant mind will love this text. It's mandatory reading for every American, in my mind.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Poor Richard's Rich Insights January 12, 2000
Format:Paperback
How many books have you read that you remember thirty-six years later? Ben Franklin's insights into principles of self-improvement, and his love for the adventure of life were not only inspiring to me when I discovered his autobiography in the Holmesburg Library in Philadelphia at age 14, but they still remain motivational for me at age 50! Ben Franklin was the Dale Carnegie of his age. He realized that by following basic core value principles, and by constant practice in the adventure of life, he could not only creatively change himself, but he could positively impact those around him as well. Ben Franklin led a purposeful, creative life. I am thankful that he had the foresight to pass his exhuberance along to us in this his autobiography. It was fun to read. I think I'll read it again. Thanks, Ben.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding Norton Critical Edition October 6, 2007
Format:Paperback
If you are looking for "the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin," this is the volume to get. It is a Norton Critical Edition, perhaps the gold standard of anthologies, and it is edited by Lemay and Zall.

I believe Lemay and Zall are the "experts" in the autobiographical writings of Benjamin Franklin.

Critical essays include essays written contemporaneously with this autobiography (including David Hume and John Adams); in the 19th century (including Edgar Allen Poe, Herman Melville, Mark Twain); in the 20th century (including D.H. Lawrence, W. Somerset Maugham). The critical essay by D. H. Lawrence is a classic, but it is clear that Lawrence "misread" Benjamin Franklin, and having read it, I have lost some admiration for Lawrence.

Watch for this volume at discount book stores and independent books sellers through Amazon.com.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Informative September 18, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I didn't think I will like reading an autobiography but found this one rather interesting. Although I bought it for a class, I was drawn to it that is how interesting it was.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great material June 14, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It not only had the text for Ben's Autobiography, but also other of his writings and writings by other about him and his ethics. Some of them were thoughtful. The notes by the editor were informative if expressed perhaps more strongly than necessary. I had never read Max Weber's famous comments about Franklin before. After reading them I consider them be a very contrived view to fit Weber's methodology for his study of capitalism and ethics.. I had purchased the book for a gift. I was strongly tempted to keep it for myself.
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