Friday, October 25, 2013

Reflections: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Adam C. Zern sounds off on Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography:

"You hear stories about famous books by famous people.  Sometimes it's classics that everyone simply must read.  Sometimes it's new releases that are too good to ignore.  And sometimes everyone is right and sometimes they're all wrong together (based on my subjective opinion, of course!).  The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is one of those books I've been hearing about for years.  In fact, when I have mentioned to others in the past my love for American history, especially the revolutionary war days, they have asked—‘have you read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin?’  I always felt a little left out when I had to respond—‘no.’ Now that I've read it I'm left wondering—why all the fuss?

There are moments of true insight peppered throughout Mr. Franklin's Autobiography, but there are only a few.  The vast majority of the book is Franklin's travelogue, and it's not all that interesting.  Furthermore, the most interesting and consequential part of Franklin's life, his involvement in the American revolution is completely unrecorded in this autobiography.  What I wanted, what I was hoping for, was far more anecdotes with Franklin interacting with the other critical personalities involved in the American revolution.  I learned a great deal about this unique brotherhood while reading Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis, but I wanted a first-hand account of some of those exchanges between some of the most talented and important people in human history.  It was not to be found here. 

Those true moments of insights aforementioned are there, and they are memorable.  Franklin's plan of perfection is particularly compelling and inspiring.  Reading of his experiences as an entrepreneur, small business owner, and scientist were extremely interesting to me.  Of very personal interest to me were Franklin’s thoughts on God, religion, and his own spirituality, which there is some to be had.  I also enjoyed Franklin's philosophy on discussion and debate.  As a person who has a tendency to be very absolute in my debating style, his method of softening the message was intriguing and probably far more useful than being a blunt polemical object during debates.  Oddly enough, some of the pithiest comments to be had in the autobiography were in the Appendix, which had a small collection of Poor Richard's proverbs.

I think someone would get just as much out of Franklin's autobiography by reading specific excerpts than by reading the entire work.  In my opinion, there just isn't that much to recommend the rest of the autobiography, aside from being a purely historical document.  If you do choose to read the entire autobiography, watch out for the bursts of insight and endure the rest of it."

Other Topics of Interest:
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation
Democracy in America
Mr. Republican: A Biography of Robert A. Taft

1 comment:

  1. The brilliance of this autobiography is that it addresses the concept of self-help and self improvement. The revolution here is the revolution of self determination over the old rubric of pre-destination. It's the thinking that made America. Brilliant. Ben Franklin was no one's victim. We could stand a decent dose of that kind of thinking in modern day America.