Ben Franklin Autobiography

Review of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

Benjamin Franklin’s life story is touted as the quintessential American story; a man from nothing progressed through society to become one of its richest and most famous. I believe Ben Franklin is also credited with starting the self-help book genre books. His autobiography is claimed to be the first autobiography of modern autobiographies. His Poor Richard’s Almanac was considered to be highly influential. He is the only person on American currency who isn’t a U.S. president (Harriet Tubman is supposed to be the second, but there have been some issues.).

Franklin is probably most famous for his help in drafting the Declaration of Independence and inventing the lightning rod. He has a long list of other notable accomplishments that seem inhuman. Accomplishments that set the foundation of society today. He was prolific, to say the least.

Why was he so successful and influential, though? By his account, he constantly read. He enjoyed reading and not just reading for pleasure, but he also used the knowledge he gained from those books and incorporated them into his life. That’s key. He once essentially became a vegetarian after reading the suggestion in a book. I repeat, he incorporated information from books into his life. That is, I think, something that we should be more intentional about when we read books, which is something I am trying to improve upon myself. When it comes to non-fiction and self-help books, creating tangible plans to incorporate the information is something I am working on.

Not only did Franklin read constantly, but he also observed his surroundings, generated ideas, and followed through on those ideas.  He tested those ideas. To test so many ideas, I imagine he had to have tenacity and boldness, which made him willing to try out as many things as he could. Even Franklin knew that he was rather successful in implementing his ideas. The author and motivational speaker Les Brown has a famous quote:

“The graveyard is the richest place on earth, because it is here that you will find all the hopes and dreams that were never fulfilled, the books that were never written, the songs that were never sung, the inventions that were never shared, the cures that were never discovered, all because someone was too afraid to take that first step, keep with the problem, or determined to carry out their dream.”

It seems like Franklin left all of his ideas above ground. I wonder, though, how many failures did Franklin have that we don’t know about. That’s probably a lesson of itself; society doesn’t remember one’s failures as much as one’s successes.

As Franklin was always learning about the world and testing his ideas, he was also always learning about himself and trying to better himself. He created his list of 13 virtues: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity and Humility, and every week he would reflect on how well he lived up those virtues. He constantly monitored himself and self-reflected. I thought that his method of improving his writing was particularly interesting. He discovered on his own that to improve his writing, which would become essential in his success, he would compare his writing to established writers, imitate them, and analyze his work.

To put in a nutshell, some of Franklin’s keys to success included reading, writing, observation, deliberate practice, self-improvement, building relationships (professional and casual), and assertion/following-through on his ideas.

Franklin’s Privilege

We do have to acknowledge the fact that Benjamin Franklin had the privilege that a lot of other people didn’t have. The works of researchers and scholars such as Malcolm Gladwell, K. Anders Ericsson, and Robert Greene have enhanced our awareness of the importance of hard work and obtaining one’s 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to be great at something. Gladwell though, in his book Outliers, also emphasizes the conditions around top achievers that helped them become great.

Benjamin Franklin was a white male in America in the 1700s. This was during a time when only white males were legally afforded full privilege. Black people were enslaved, women were second class citizens, and Native Americans had been displaced. Franklin had much less competition. This is just speculation, but he was also the youngest of his siblings, meaning his parents were probably more mature, wise, and experienced with raising children. Thus, he may have benefited from good or decent parenting, relatively speaking.

In fact, based on Franklin’s autobiography, his father was indeed engaged in his success. We see the father took time to find a trade that was suitable for young Franklin, rather than leaving him to flounder. Franklin had an older brother who owned a print shop and thus gained access to more books and potentially influential people. Franklin had access to books and could read in the 1700s. How common was that? Gladwell’s Outliers discusses how some very successful people, such as Bill Gates had atypical access to limited resources when most others did not.

One, a success, access to resources and having privilege does not automatically make. We must acknowledge that Benjamin Franklin also probably made the most of his resources and his privilege.

Conclusion

Benjamin Franklin, also known as the first American, is someone that we should admire and even attempt to emulate. I don’t recall this being mentioned in his autobiography, but I think that it is worth acknowledging that he did enslave other people at one point. Franklin’s account of the French and Indian War was the least interesting to me. Overall, though The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin was an interesting read and I would recommend it. I would also be interested in reading a more objective take on Franklin’s life.

Narration

The book is probably better if read. As interesting as the subject matter was, I would often lose concentration while listening to this book. It might have been the language style that made me zone out often.

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