Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiographyby Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Aaron (Introduction)
Famous as a scientist, statesman, philosopher, businessman, and civic leader, Benjamin Franklin was also one of the most powerful and controversial American writers of his time. He has been a subject of intense debate ever since: to Matthew Arnold, he exemplified "victorious good sense"; to D. H. Lawrence, he was "the first dummy American." Franklin's classic Autobiography, one of the great foundational works of American literature, is his last word on his most remarkable literary invention-his own invented persona, the original incarnation of the American success story.
For almost thirty years, The Library of America has presented America's best and most significant writing in acclaimed hardcover editions. Now, a new series, Library of America Paperback Classics, offers attractive and affordable books that bring The Library of America's authoritative texts within easy reach of every reader. Each book features an introductory essay by one of a leading writer, as well as a detailed chronology of the author's life and career, an essay on the choice and history of the text, and notes.
The contents of this Paperback Classic are drawn from Benjamin Franklin: Autobiography, Poor Richard, & Later Writings, volume #37B in the Library of America series. It is joined in the series by a companion volume, #37A, Benjamin Franklin: Silence Dogood, The Busy-Body, & Early Writings. Both volumes were edited by J. A. Leo Lemay.
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Benjamin Franklin, statesman, philosopher, and man of letters, was born in Boston in 1706 of Protestant parents. He entered Boston Grammar School when he was eight and later attended George Brown Ell’s school. When he was twelve his father apprenticed him to his half-brother James as a printer. James was later the publisher of the New England Courant, where Franklin’s first articles, The Dogood Papers, were published before he was seventeen. He went to Philadelphia in 1723 and pursued his trade of printer. He was befriended by William Keith, Governor of Pennsylvania, who offered to help the young man get started in business. Franklin left for England, where he hoped to arrange for the purchase of printing equipment. Arriving in London in 1724, he was soon deserted by Keith, and again turned to printing for a livelihood. His privately printed Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain (1725) introduced him to leading Deists and other intellectuals in London. A year later, he returned to Philadelphia, and by 1730 he had been appointed public printer for Pennsylvania. In 1731 he established the first circulation library in the United States; in 1743-44, The American Philosophical Society. In 1748 he retired from the trade of printer but continued to advise and back his partner and to draw profit from the business. Poor Richard’s Almanack was his most spectacular success as a publisher, having gone through numerous editions and been translated in many languages. During the next thirty-five years he devoted himself largely to politics and diplomacy, but still wrote and engaged in scientific ventures. He resigned as Minister to France in 1785, returned to America, and was elected President of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Still concerned with the rights of the individual, he published papers encouraging the abolition of slavery. He died in Philadelphia in 1790.
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I am no scholar on Franklin but I knew enough about him to know that I wanted to learn more. Naturally, I thought I would learn the most by reading a book about Mr. Franklin that was written by the man himself. Franklin: The Autobiography is full of interesting facts about most aspects of his life. His autobiography covers things about his family, friends, jobs, travels, and of course it covers some of his inventions and experiments. Benjamin Franklin was a genius that constantly worked at making himself a better person and the world around him a better place. As I started to read the book I found I had to force myself to keep reading. Though there were several parts that I found very interesting, there were even more parts in the book that I felt would be better suited to putting insomniacs to sleep. For some reason I was expecting beautiful writing using words rarely used today, which I would have loved, but there was very little use of uncommon words (felicity being about the only exception) and there were no flowery passages at all. I usually go into a book with little or no expectations. So part of the problem I had with this book could have been of my own making. If this book were a food I would say there is a lot of substance but not much flavor. So, I would only recommend it for someone starving for knowledge on Benjamin Franklin (or insomniacs).