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3.76  ·  Rating details ·  779 ratings  ·  92 reviews
One of the greatest prodigies of his era, John Stuart Mill (1806-73) was studying arithmetic and Greek by the age of three, as part of an astonishingly intense education at his father's hand. Intellectually brilliant, fearless and profound, he became a leading Victorian liberal thinker, whose works - including On Liberty, Utilitarianism, The Subjection of Women and this au ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 23rd 1989 by Penguin Classics (first published 1873)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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 ·  779 ratings  ·  92 reviews

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Dec 29, 2010 rated it really liked it
Think you're pretty smart? Think you've read a lot of books? Think you've had a rigorous education? Prepare to be utterly humbled. Excellent slim volume about a brilliant and also a very good man.
Aaron Arnold
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The autobiography is such an ancient genre, St. Augustine having written his Confessions in 400 AD, that its conventions were already pretty fixed by the time that Mill finally completed his shortly before his 1873 death. His contribution to the genre is right in line with what we expect: an overview of his life, his work, his relationship (note the singular), and his likely legacy, balancing between honest modesty and fair self-regard. It's notable not just merely because of who he was - pionee ...more
Michael Siliski
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable, fairly short read about the education of the most important English-speaking philosopher of the 19th century. Tells the story of how under his father's direction he began learning Greek at age 3, Latin at 8, was responsible for the education of his 8 siblings, and had consumed most of the classical canon by 12. He begins productive work as a philosopher and political economist, then this education runs up against a mental breakdown and loss of purpose in his early 20s, finally reso ...more
Jaakko Ojala
Apr 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading John Stuart Mill's life is like reading a book of fantasy. This man was to a very large extent a product of an experiment of his father - a child genius, a troubled man. I like this book for the same reason that I liked Justin Martyr's First Apology. The man seems so completely honest with himself and everything else that one feels very secure reading what he has to say. Mostly due to his strange upbringing and undoubtedly also due to his own sin, he is often wrong, but never boring and ...more
Feb 07, 2020 rated it did not like it
John Stuart Mill was a remarkable man. He was schooled and/or versed in economics, politics, law, philosophy, logic, mathemathics, and sociology. The man clearly was a genius. This is not strange, since, as he himself claims, he was a man of average intellect receiving an extraordinary education by his father. Mill was taught Greek when he was three years old, Latin when he was eight. As a child he was trained in Greek and Roman poetry and philosophy. And gradually he was educated more and more ...more
Nov 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
It is good to know there is someone out there in the world with even less originality when it comes to titles than I have. Of course, it probably was the style of the time.
I'm encouraged anyway.
I liked Autobiography. Mill's writing is tight and well-written. His life is interesting and he does a good job examining the sources (books and people) that shaped his life. It does get a tad long when reading about said sources at 1 am, but otherwise I found it enjoyable and interesting. His enthusias
Angie Boyter
Mar 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
OMG! If you want to read John Stuart Mill, read On Liberty, not this book! I knew he had a very unusual life, like learning Greek and math at the age of 3, so I thought his autobiography would be interesting. Actually I guess it takes real talent to make such an interesting life so boring....
Jun 30, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, philosophy
I thought that this book would be more interesting and insightful than it actually was. Amidst a boring recounting of various details of his life, there were three aspects of this book that I found interesting: (i) Mill's childhood education was extremely rigorous, time-consuming, and broad; (ii) Mill's depression midway through his life is a well articulated portrait of clinical depression; (iii) Various strategies that Mill employed in doing his work. For example, every time he would write som ...more
Jun 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
Now we have a blueprint for manufacturing geniuses, so we may as well run an experiment with a control group to see if anybody can be turned into one. GO!
Nov 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
Somehow simultaneously dry and fascinating...
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
This account, John Stuart Mill's Autobiography, made a strong impression on me, though at some times stronger than others insofar as at times it is about parliamentary matters of over a century ago, and I'd certainly recommend the first chapters, about his education as a child prodigy, and the fifth chapter, which is about his mental breakdown, to all readers; it was, however, sometimes difficult to read, though not more so than other books of this esteemed era, so I found it very pleasurable, t ...more
Rob Rogers
Jul 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I found this book interesting for two reasons: the account of his extraordinary early education and the story of his "dark night of the soul" in early adulthood.

What Mill himself seems to find interesting -- his relationships with other philosophers of political economy and the Scottish enlightenment, his role in politics and his frequent occupations editing some literary review or other -- strike me as slow going. What I find fascinating, however, are all the elements absent from his book: any
May 12, 2020 rated it liked it
Mill prefaces the book by saying that the majority of his life would be quite boring to hear about, and the only reason he's written an autobiography is to make a record of the unusual education he had. indeed, that is what i wanted to read about, and i read the first half of this with great attention. but then he gets beyond his education, and it is as boring as he said it would be. worth it? i guess.
John Jr.
Apr 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Valuable for many reasons, among them:

• Its account of Mill's early education. Mill was at first homeschooled, by his father; he began learning Greek when he was three and Latin at eight. Training in the classical languages wasn't unusual and hadn't been even in Shakespeare's time, but training at such an early age pretty certainly was.

• Mill's discussion of how, at age 20, he fell into what we now call depression (Mill terms it a "dry heavy dejection") and of how he got out of it. Suffice it to
Grig O'
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: kindle
JS Mill gives an interesting if not comprehensive picture of his life and relationships with the 2 most important people, his father and his wife. Unpleasant details are glossed over, such as his dad's colonialism or how he stole his wife from her first husband. Stuff like this shows the limits of JSM's good intentions and reasoning, which he seems to place behind everything in his story.

The first part of the book, detailing his unusual upbringing, is by far the most appealing. Good general poin
David Redden
May 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
An unexpectedly pleasant autobiography written by one of the 18th Century's leading thinkers in such riveting topics as political and social theory. I expected it to be pretty dry, but I think the better word for it is "reserved." He talks about his rigorous homeschooling by his father, his writing, and his shoulder-rubbing with all sorts of other 18th Century British thinkers (including Jeremy Bentham), and his time in parliament. But where his humanity and sweetness really comes through is whe ...more
Oct 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I used to think it was a sign of neglect that my parents didn't ensure I had a more rigorous education. Now I understand that they were actually doing their best to help me avoid suicidal depression. Mom. Dad. Thanks guys. Sorry I doubted you.
May 04, 2007 added it
Shelves: own, philosophy
About 20% of this is extremely fascinating. The rest is really hard to like, even if you really like Mill.
Jan 05, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a fascinating read for anyone who is interested in education and genius.
May 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Reading this book has solidified my admiration for John Stuart Mill. Someone needs to make a movie about his life.
Luke Meehan
Aug 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A wonderfully well-paced and accessible autobiography that includes quick and clear summations of some of Mill's best ideas.
Recommended reading for economists!
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I don’t know what got into me, but I could hardly put this down! I had to stop myself from overtasking my retentive faculties (that, and it was getting late). For one thing, Mill writes a melt-in-your-mouth prose – which I know has been called dry, but, well, so are sugar cubes. Okay, perhaps it should be taken into account that I’m someone who enjoys technical drawing, and if one needed a verbal approximation of a blueprint, it would be something by Mill. I’ve read Utilitarianism and parts of O ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this book more than I did, so in only rating it 3 stars, I’m trying to exhibit the type of intellectual honesty that I think would engender Mill’s respect.

I’m a big fan of Mill’s philosophy, ideas and ideals but, alas, Mill the man isn’t so interesting. He delivers the account of his life factually and with many details, but so many of the references he makes to books, people and the political issues of his time were obscure to me or just uninteresting.

I do not fault Mill for t
Fraser Kinnear
My favorite person to read or hear interview, Tyler Cowen, identified Mill's Autobiography as one of the book that influenced him most, so this was an easy pick-up for me. I'm less impressed, although probably didn't read this nearly as closely as the famously auto-didactic Cowen (who may have also seen himself in Mill's described youth).

As Cowen briefly summarizes: "This got me thinking about how one's ideas change, and should change, over the course of a lifetime." He's probably referring to M
Andrii Zakharov
Mar 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A fascinating (if regrettably short, mainly due to the humbleness of the author) insight into the mental and physical life of one of the most influential intellectuals of the 19th century.
Having gone through an unparalleled, both in rigor and coldness, private education by his father (himself an eminent public figure), Mill developed from a very young age a penetrating analytical mind, which he unhesitatingly applied throughout his life to all questions of societal importance. The development o
CJ Spear
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was ok
John Stuart Mill's account of his own life should be renamed 'Chronological Ramblings.' Having read his own autobiography, I still know very little about his life. Mill covers in a fair amount of detail his education, but nothing else of his youth. He briefly dwells on a sort of 'mental crisis' that he experienced in his mid-twenties. The vast majority of this book however is Mill's opinions on his contemporaries' work, his own work, and the political issues of his day. Having no knowledge of an ...more
Robert B
May 11, 2017 rated it liked it
The autobiography of 19th century England’s great utilitarian philosopher is most interesting for Mill’s discussion of:

* The methods by which he was educated by his father (learning Greek at age 3, Latin at age 8) and his insistence that it was the methods and not his own native talents that were responsible for his precocity
* His work methods, for example, the fact that he would write the first draft of a work and then totally start over an write a second draft
* The depression that Mill suffere
Canaan Mark
May 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Chapter one, wherein Mill talks about all the books he read growing up, shows how he would’ve dominated Goodreads. I especially enjoyed chapter two’s discussion of religious belief and morality, as well as chapter seven’s musings on Tocqueville’s Democracy in America; the absolute despotism of Comte’s system; the publication of On Liberty; the American Civil War; the difference between the philosophical schools of “Intuition” and “Experience”; and Mill’s discussions with his wife, Harriet Taylor ...more
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Mill was a fantastic person. Though his writing was akin to his personality, being very straight forward, it's quite an enjoyable read. Many interesting discussions on his early education, mental crisis, relationship with his peers and with his wife, and his time as a politician. One interesting fact being that his essay On Liberty was written twice (as most of his works were), but also scrupulously looked over by himself and his wife for a few years afterwards as well. Quite a dedicated and ama ...more
Any autobiography of a thinker as important as John Stuart Mill would be worth reading. But Mill’s autobiography is an especially critical volume, because almost all of his philosophical writing is tied to the political and moral agenda that would come to dominate the Victorian age. To understand his arguments on the limits of power in On Liberty, or his theories on the equality of the sexes in The Subjection of Women (1869), it’s necessary to understand the man so keenly revealed in this extrao ...more
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John Stuart Mill, English philosopher, political economist, civil servant and Member of Parliament, was an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century. He was an exponent of utilitarianism, an ethical theory developed by Jeremy Bentham, although his conception of it was very different from Bentham's.

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