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.