The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

When Bono introduced Dierks Bentley singing his song “Home” last year at the Country Music Awards, he made the statement that America is not just geography or a country but an idea.  While Benjamin Franklin wasn’t the only “idea man or woman” among the Founders, one can’t help but give him a significant amount of credit for the idea of America.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

As I stated in a previous post, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin probably ranks as the book that has been recommended to me the most but I somehow had never managed to read – until now.  I was expecting to like it.  Not only did it meet my expectations, it exceeded them.

For a book written over two hundred years ago, it surprised me at how readable it was.  Franklin gets straight to his many points and ideas.  I admit that I have a stereotype of 18th century American writers as those who feel the need to write pages and pages describing trees.  Franklin doesn’t fall into this category.

It’s interesting that many of his ideas described in this book are not necessarily patriotic in the sense that we may think, today.  Many of them are incredibly practical.  I loved his idea for cleaning dirt from the streets.  He decided that when it rained, the water needed to drain to the center of the street making a strong enough current to wash all the dirt away. Draining on each side made for weaker currents that just moved the dirt and dust around without getting rid of it.  How observant!

Since the book was never completed and he only takes himself up to around 1757, we don’t get much detail regarding those occasions that lead to the American Revolution.  However, one of the few references made to that time period involved his love of books and his pioneering of libraries:

These libraries have improved the general conversation of  the Americans, made the common tradesmen and farmers as intelligent as most gentlemen from other countries, and perhaps have contributed in some degree to the stand so generally made throughout the colonies in deference of their priveleges.

I was pleased to discover that much of his frugality for which Franklin has become famous helped him buy books that furthered his education and the education of those in his community.

Last week, my family took a trip to Philadelphia and toured many of the historical sites that played a part in creating the United States.  We walked through Christ Church cemetary and saw where Benjamin Franklin was buried (pictured below).  While freedom has been a long difficult process at times, I cannot help but be amazed at the ideas, the determination and the ingenuity of those that founded this country.

6 responses to “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

  1. Well written! I too was bummed that Franklin’s book was not more complete, but the fact that there is still so much there is saying a lot about the man. A true American classic.

    • Thanks, Ben! I have seen “The Compleated Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” compiled by Mark Skousen. Supposedly it is based on Franklin’s writings about the later part of his life. For some reason, I have been skeptical about how well it would present what Franklin would have really said if he had completed his autobiography, himself. I don’t have any basis for that skepticism, though. I might check it out sometime.


  2. I remember reading this book in school and so impressed that I kept the book but I also remember being disappointed there wasn’t more to it. But I think for a man so oftener quoted with short, to the point sayings, maybe it’s appropriate his autobiography was too.

    • Jennifer, since over the last nine months I’ve read “War and Peace”, “Gone with the Wind” and “Moby-Dick”, short and to the point is very OK with me right now!


  3. Hi Dale,
    Great post! I’ve read this book more times than any other, I believe. It has often provided me with a booster shot of optimism when I needed one, making me think great things are possible if we only apply ourselves. Some day maybe I’ll actually heed more of his advice and put it into practice. 🙂

    • Jay,
      I want to learn more about him. I’ve seen a few other biographies that could potentially be interesting. Being able to read Franklin’s own words was great, though! I have David McCullough’s book “1776” on reserve. Another one I’ve heard good things about, but have never read.

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