Book Review: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin


Somehow, despite majoring in History & English (both with an American focus) at college, I never managed to read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1793).  A fellow guide on Boston By Foot’s Son of Boston tour gave me a copy for my birthday so I’ve finally redressed this glaring oversight.

Franklin’s memoirs are thin for a man who lived such a long life (albeit they end abruptlty in 1757 due to Franklin’s death while composing them), yet have some incredible detail of apparently minor events in his life.  For example, he writes an amusing story about stealing stones to build a wharf in Boston’s Mill Pond so he could go swimming with his friends.  I also like how he learned about vegetarianism through a book that came to his brother’s printing shop and adopted the practice himself.  Later when sailing to England he noticed that a fish ate a smaller fish and adapted his diet to include these fish since they too ate others.

The first part of the Autobiography takes the form of a letter to his son William, and much of the book is instructional in tone for William (and other readers) to learn lessons of virtue.  These come in examplse from Franklin’s own life, and Franklin writes at length regarding his efforts to perfect himself.  In some sense this book goes beyond memoir to personal hagiography.  I know from other sources that Franklin did not always practice what he preached but the book remains interesting none the less especially from the perspective of what Franklin found important.

I highlighted some passages of the book that I’d like to quote here but much to my vexation I lost it shortly after completing it!  Hopefully, I will find it and can edit in those passages later.  Of course, this book is worth a second read, so I could always get another copy.

The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin. New York : Dover Publications, 1996.

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