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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography was an unusual treat; I really didn’t know what to expect when I chose to read it next from the Essential Man’s Library listing.

I found much of the work to be surprisingly folksy and witty in tone.  And, it is certainly different from biographies written today both in its relative informality and its more episodic nature, rather than attempting to fill in periods of Franklin’s entire life.  In fact, some of the most “famous” stories today, such as flying the kite in a thunderstorm are merely glossed over.  Franklin’s work on the formative documents of the American founding and the Revolution aren’t even mentioned (it appears that the autobiographical work was left uncompleted).

Franklin was certainly a charismatic, creative, and energetic man.  In spite of his forethought (lending libraries, firefighter unions, scientific method, etc), he was also a product of his time.  For example, although he argues that women should be educated, he asserts that this would permit a widow to keep her husband’s business running until her son could take over.  Becoming an abolitionist later in life, he repeats a bawdy joke about slavery and “blacking” the Quakers.

Perhaps the most insightful quote I read was:

If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix’d in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.

I am considering having this quotation printed up and posted near my computer at work to remind me not to be inflexible, but to consider openly and fully what others tell me, and then make an informed decision.

For me, the earlier portions of the book were more interesting than the rather tedious legislative machinations and the building of a militia stockade in the third and fourth sections.

3 1/2 stars out of 5

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