Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Review: Benjamin Franklin: His Autobiography

I didn't intend to read this book. It was something I ordered for my son to read when school starts again in the fall. But as I thumbed through it, I found every random thread I perused to be enthralling. I'm not sorry that I went back to the beginning and gave it the attention it deserved.

If I had to compose one quintessential description of Benjamin Franklin's life I would call him a "wisdom seeker". He could glean wisdom from old Quaker women, from books, from conversations,from drunkards, even from his enemies. He passed some of that wisdom on in his writings, but his greatest strength was that he was able to model it and live it.

If he had any fault, it was that he talked too much in his later years. But who could blame him? He was a virtual fountain of rich life experience ranging from swimming (did you know he was an athlete?), writing, business, politics, community service, diplomacy,science, journalism, and even military service.

There is nothing boring here. I loved his ideas about thrift, which are amazingly applicable to our time of economic turn down. It was almost a game for him to support himself on the least possible amount, without compromising quality of life. He writes:

"Thus I spent about eighteen months in London; most part of the time I work'd hard at my business, and spent but little upon myself except in seeing plays and in books."

B.F. could gladly subsist on plain food and simple lodging, but refused to starve his mind and soul by neglecting the living ideas found in books and the arts. His extensive reading made him a brilliant conversationalist so that one can say that providing himself with stimulating "mind food" was the equivalent of investing in himself.

His ideas on religion were disappointing to me; he rejected the divine inspiration of scripture but held to the tenets therein that he found worthy in his own estimation. As a Christian, I believe scripture should judge the thoughts of man and Franklin had it completely opposite~ he judged scripture with his intellect. But that is simply an evidence that he was a man of his times. The 19th century was the dawn of a new era where science would reign. Franklin, of course, could also be labeled a scientist as a result of his experiments on electricity.

I can't wait to discuss this book with my son. There are many, many life lessons here for a young man, yet he is not "preachy". Franklin does not simply catalogue his successes, but is also honest about his mistakes, which he calls "errata". He had the ability to learn from the mistakes of others, too, recognizing their flaws without a trace of malice.

This book has great historical value as it covers the years and events that led up to the Revolutionary War. Because he made so many trips to Britain during this time, one also picks up the perspective of the Tories in his writing.

Whether you are looking for a character study, a historical reading, or just an engaging story~~this book fits the criteria of all of these. I can't imagine why I was never led to this book in my younger years, but I am going to make sure all of my children read it.


Joyful Days said...

That is a helpful review. I think I'll have to check it out.



Tracie said...

Where did you buy this? I just took a quick look on CBD and Amazon, but the covers are different or not pictured. I want to make sure I get the same thing.

Poiema said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Poiema said...

Hey Tracie,
I bought my used copy very inexpensively and it had a different cover than this one. You can also access it online free at

Chances are your public library has it, too.

Thanks for stopping by!