Book Review – “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin”

An incomplete story of a self-taught, multi-talented titan

 

I’ve long been fascinated by Benjamin Franklin, not just because he was one of the founding fathers of the United States, nor because he can be seen on the US 100 dollar bill. The interest stems from the fact that he achieved all the greatness in his life in spite of having very little formal education and having to quite literally teach himself skills which brought him all that success. To quote from a letter (included in the book) that someone wrote to him: “…you are ashamed of no origin; a thing the more important, as you prove how little necessary all origin is to happiness, virtue, or greatness.”

The book begins as notes to his son but quickly descends into too many details of his early life. I initially found the details interesting as they had a narrative feel to the “origin story” of Benjamin Franklin. But I soon found myself skimming past events that no longer seem relevant in today’s world. This book is, after all, almost two and a half centuries old!

What did impress me was the frugality and industriousness that was evident in Franklin’s life from a very early age. He first brought this ability of sheer hard work to teach himself writing and debating ideas. He later multiplied his knowledge, thus gathered, by associating and engineering gatherings of erudite people. The work ethic of simultaneously spending long hours at his printing business, reading and studying matters of public importance, discussing and debating with others and setting up of public institutions is immensely motivating.

What is disappointing and disgusting to read is the carefree manner in which women and Native Americans are badly treated and spoken of in the book. Nary a thought is spared for women who are left alone to bring up a child or the human rights of the indigenous people.

I was left a little underwhelmed by the time I finished reading this book. It ends literally mid-sentence and that is pretty much how you feel about the book as a whole. We only get a short look at the inventor and the diplomat, two aspects of his personality that I wanted to read more about. I guess I’ll just have to settle down and read the biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson that I bought a few years ago.

Snippets:

  • “Human felicity is produc’d not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”
  • “Those who govern, having much business on their hands, do not generally like to take the trouble of considering and carrying into execution new projects. The best public measures are therefore seldom adopted from previous wisdom, but forc’d by the occasion.”
  • “This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day, and thus repair’d in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allow’d myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolicks of any kind; and my industry in my business continu’d as indefatigable as it was necessary.”

Books I marked as to-read after reading this book:

Read more about ‘The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin’ on Goodreads. Buy the book here.

Title: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Author: Benjamin Franklin

First Published: 1791

Number of Pages: 154

Price: Paperback – Rs. 98 / Kindle – Rs. 77.88 (Amazon.in)

My Rating: 6/10

(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)

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