Erik Graff's Reviews > Autobiography

Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
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's review
Jul 17, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: biography
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Recommended for: Americans
Read in January, 1969 , read count: 1

I entered high school with the intention of becoming a physical scientist, maybe an astrophysicist. I graduated with the intention of becoming an historian because of the exceptionally good teachers in that department and one very bad teacher in A.P. Chemistry (and, to be fair, a certain personal ineptitude in the laboratory). At Maine Township H.S. South I not only took the required History of Civilization, World History, U.S. History, and Government/Democracy classes, but was also able to do electives in European History, Modern European History and Latin American History. It being a school with over 4,000 students, most everything was available in an accelerated and/or Advanced Placement version--courses taught pretty much the way I'd discover them handled later in college. In addition, membership in the school's one radical club, the Social Science Society, introduced me to a bunch of older students, all of whom were admirably concerned with historical and tangent studies. English was also pretty good, the four-year series of required courses being themselves a cultural history survey of sorts. Indeed, it was a contender, the study of culture through literature being of great interest, but history won out as being more practical in the revolutionary circumstance I thought myself living in and for which I felt a good deal of moral responsibility.

As a teen, if you'd asked me when I'd like to have been born, I would have said "during the Enlightenment." That period and the luminaries of it, Jefferson and Franklin, Voltaire and Diderot, spoke to me clearly and convincingly. Our age, my age, seemed but an elaboration and development of seeds planted in the eighteenth century.

Franklin was familiar not only from history classes, but also from American Literature as we had read at least some extracts of him. I'd read some of his Almanac, some of his correspondence, some of his political essays for classes, but while his autobiography was mentioned frequently, we never read more than bits of it. Consequently, I borrowed a copy and read it during the winter break of senior year.

Thinking back to this reading, like the practice of remembering first acquaintance with any number of books discussed here, takes me back to Uncle Hans' home in Arlington Heights one dark evening during the Christmas season. Hans was one of the thirty (!) siblings of my paternal stepgrandfather and, so, my great uncle. He was my favorite of that generation, one of those rare adults who ever paid any attention to me. The Autobiography is rather long, so obviously I didn't read the whole of it during that particular family party, but my only clear memory of reading the thing is from the vantage of his living room, cozily sitting on the end of the couch as the adults talked and drank and smoked after dinner in the dining room, resolved to get more serious about my own journals.

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