Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Ben Franklin

I’d read somewhere that this was among the better autobiographies written by a famous American. I’ve gotta admit, that I’m fairly new to the field of autobiographies, having read only one or two now.

Big Ben Franklin’s skinny little volume was most noteable because it reminds us that autobiographies are written by people, not historical figures. Accordingly, what is most striking about this work is all that it doesn’t contain. For example, it ends well before the beginning of the revolutionary war, Continental Congress, Declaration of Anything, and so on. So forget most of the context in which you think about Benjamin Franklin, (no kites with keys tied to them either) and prepare instead for the self-aggrandizing tale of a citizen of Boston and Philadelphia, whose civic contributions to Philly were numerous.

Ben is concerned much with prices, the printing business, how to relate to others, and how to be virtuous without being a member of any of the New England sects which dominated the cultural landscape at that time.

A final detail which bears mentioning is that Ben’s language is delightful; written in a time far enough back to be tongue-teasingly archaic and irregular, but not so far back as to remind us of the incomprehensibility of Dryden. His sentences are long, winding, and chock full of clauses, and his vocabulary is a lot of fun to try on.

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