Isis's Reviews > The Autobiography Of Benjamin Franklin

The Autobiography Of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin
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May 08, 09

bookshelves: audiobook, memoir, politics
Recommended for: fans of early-mid 18th century
Read in May, 2009

The charm and pleasure of this book, for me, is that it is not about the famous Benjamin Franklin, the inventor and one of the fathers of the American Revolution, but that it is about the young Franklin; about his education and apprenticeship as a printer to his brother, about his love of books and his determination to improve his writing skills, about how he uprooted himself from his birthplace and family and moved to Philadelphia, and began a business there. He meets rogues and swindlers, has unexpected fortune both good and ill, and eventually prospers through his own cleverness and industry. The first half of the book - and parts of the second half - is as entertaining as any novel.

I especially like what it reveals about early and mid-18th century America and its inhabitants. The journey from Boston to Philadelphia was far different in those days! The way he talks about men being "bred" to their various professions is fascinating, as is his discussion of religious beliefs and doctrines of the time. And it's so interesting to see the workings of the pre-Revolutionary government, in which each colony is nearly a separate country, and yet all absolutely subjects of the Crown.

Franklin is a sly and entertaining narrator. He does not shy from making himself look bad on occasion, but it's clearly calculated to gain the reader's sympathy and goodwill. He's a schmoozer and a schemer, but he schmoozes and schemes to (what he perceives to be) the common good, not to his own betterment.

The book does have some serious flaws. For one thing, it is an abandoned WIP, ending abruptly with his passage to England in 1757. He also laid it down in the middle for a long time, and the second half is markedly different from the first; when he starts again, he repeats himself quite a bit, and then goes into this rather preachy and (to me) boring discussion of virtue, and how he attempted to become a Better Person through diligent self-examination. I also thought his accounts of his involvement in the French and Indian War a little dull in parts. But overall, I really enjoyed this book.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book, narrated by Adrian Cronauer, whose own story formed the basis for the movie Good Morning, Vietnam. Cronauer has a pleasant voice, but in my opinion he reads too fast, and his uncompromisingly modern American accent is somewhat at odds with the 18th-century language. I think the audiobook would have been improved by using the accent used in e.g. the recent John Adams HBO miniseries. Maybe I'm just too accustomed to theatrical portrayals of Franklin to accept a modern voice!
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