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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: The Complete Illustrated History Hardcover – Illustrated, January 1, 2017
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About the Author
Benjamin Franklin was a man of many talents. He kept himself busy with careers ranging from author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. As a scientist, he was known for his invention of bifocals and the Franklin Stove, which was so efficient that it is still made today. As a printer, he wrote for, edited and published the Pennsylvania Chronicle, Pennsylvania Gazette, and Poor Richard's Almanac with his two other partners. Most renowned for his part in the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin was dubbed 'The First American,' and was part of the United States of America throughout its birth.
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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.
Franklin was truly a self-made man, self-taught and hard-working, who raised himself out of poverty to become one of the most famous men in the world - then and now. He earned his reputation as an honest, creative, and valuable person for any endeavor. He kept his word, tried to help people, and never took No for an answer.
If you read between the lines, you can also discern what others have reported - Ben liked the ladies, and the ladies liked Ben. One can only imagine his years in France, young and handsome, attending the fanciest parties and balls as the representative of the anti-British soon-to-be USA. You dog, you!
Too bad he didn't continue his autobiography through the 1776 period, or talk more about his early electrical experiments. But those are in his many biographies.