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634 of 645 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Original American Dream, September 25, 2009
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This review is from: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Kindle Edition)
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.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 20, 2010 4:47:33 PM PDT
An informative and wonderful review!

Posted on Mar 26, 2011 6:37:43 PM PDT
D. Johnson says:
This is a good template for any review. It belongs on the "back cover" of the book. I've read and studied all the other books mentioned here and they are a good core of non-fiction that should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand us, or who thinks he already does.

Posted on Dec 27, 2011 12:59:33 PM PST
John Mugge says:
Hate to knit-pick, but deTocqueville visited America well after the colonial period.

Posted on Apr 11, 2012 10:24:39 AM PDT
Penny Santos says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Dec 9, 2012 3:22:55 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 9, 2012 3:24:01 AM PST
The Mason is strictly forbidden from proselytizing potential members even from his own family. It was common knowledge that Benjamin Franklin was a member of the Lodge, and his related activities are published with dates from daily schedules. He kept detailed journals of everything he did, and made no attempt to destroy the volumes of letters and written works prior to his death. He never sought to hide anything about himself simply because he did not share every detail.

Perhaps he understood that as a well-known and respected individual, he might have unknowingly influenced other men to inquire about Freemasonry by his formal announcement. However, he led by example in every area of his life, and this likely included strict adherence to rules of the Lodge. "To be one, ask one" was true both then and today. Outsiders will likely never meet a Mason who verbally announces his membership to others, but he will gladly answer the inquiring individual's questions about anything that is not a secret. The rest must be discovered by the individual should he be considered a candidate worthy of the Lodge, and later made a Mason.

Benjamin Franklin's son William was illegitimate not by his own standards per se, but by yours and others' decisions of what is "wrong" or right. He was never "lawfully" married to his wife, Deborah Reed Franklin, in addition to having a son with someone else prior to their marriage. However, if Franklin were alive now, he would eschew today's religious fundamentalist and political notions of what constitutes a marriage and a family. He was dedicated to advancement especially as it benefits humanity, and was known for strict opposition of religious interference within citizens' lives.

In fact, I think he would be very surprised to find anyone made a point to mention this 300 years later.
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