The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Reviewed on , book by Benjamin Franklin

What a gem. Ben just became one of my favorite historical characters, and the answer to the question: “Dead or alive, who’d you want to eat dinner with?” What really stood out to me is his rigorous pursuit of self-improvement, before there was anyone talking about the topic. A buddy shows him electricity and before you know it he’s getting science medals for running around with a kite in a thunderstorm. On the side, he came up with a stove that was much more effective than any other at the time. Controlling a major American newspaper of the time, he used it to raise public issues and make Philadelphia one of the first cities with a university, hospital, paved roads, and street lights. He goes through this ridiculous regime where he’d note down “12 virtues” (don’t eat too much, don’t talk about yourself unless it enriches the conversation)—found that it didn’t work to just write them down and follow them. Instead, he basically creates a spreadsheet in a book he carries with him all the time of whether the 12 virtues were honored that day, introducing them gradually. Respect Ben, that’s sweet. It’s remarkable how scientific and modern his thinking was in the 1700s, a humbling read—and definitely one to be re-read. The language is more modern than you might think, and while I definitely encountered fair share of words that were new to me—it’s generally very readable. Some chapters didn’t interest me too much about e.g. his participation in the war against the French, on a re-read I’ll likely just skip these paragraphs. It’s well worth it for all the gold packed in between.