I reviewed The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin for my newsletter Ambeck Edge in November 2004 and recommended it with reservation because it was so difficult to read. Four years later, in 2008, I read The Autobiography and Other Writings (Penguin Classics), and found it was easier to read the second time around. Since then, I have read and also referred to several sections in the book. Some books are meant to be read more than once to really understand it, and get the most from it, and this is such a book.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is an excellent book, but very difficult to read. It is written in old English and not structured in a way that you would expect. It took three attempts for me to finally read it through. To read this book and get the most from it, you need to set aside at least two hours. This is not a book to read in 15-minute time slots, and you’ll need an open mind when reading it.

The effort you make in reading this book is well worth it. Even though the information in this book was originally recorded in a manuscript in the 1700s, it’s timeless, and reaffirms that there are no new ideas. You will come away feeling richer. There are many lessons you can learn from reading this book. I am amazed at the way he used information to educate the masses.

Franklin wanted to introduce what he called a public subscription library, but when he tried to get the subscriptions, people objected and were reluctant to participate because it was “Franklin’s project”. He immediately learned that it was often more important to relinquish control of a project to benefit humanity if doing so would make it be accepted.

In the book, Franklin talks about his 13 virtues, which he tried to integrate into his life – temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity and humility. He chose a virtue and focused on it for the entire week. Benjamin Franklin wanted to be morally perfect, but found perfection to be elusive. He realized that being perfect wasn’t possible, but he was glad he tried because he was a happier and better man after trying. Some of the virtues may not make sense in today’s world, but it is still worth thinking about. In May 2009 while I was reading The Analects of Confucius, Confucius outlined precepts to live by which reminded me of Franklin’s 13 virtues.

Franklin was also an excellent time manager, accounting for every minute in the day and would never go to bed without first examining his day. As I am revisiting this book review, I am reminded of Socrates’ famous quote “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Benjamin Franklin, inventor, printer, publisher, business owner, franchiser, master of strategic alliances, fundraiser and so much more, gives new meaning to the terms “Jack of all Trades” and workaholic.

Five Great Ideas

  1. Develop a Code of Conduct for the way you live and work, so that when situations arise you know how to respond
  2. Provide useful information to your clients
  3. After making the first $1 million, it is easier to make the second
  4. Before going into partnerships, develop contracts with clearly defined expectations and exit clauses to protect all involved parties
  5. History is filled with mistakes, learn from them

I recommend this book even though it’s very difficult to read because it will inspire, motivate and teach you. There is a lot of really great content inside. With a little bit of Benjamin Franklin inside us, we will achieve excellence. Take some time to read the book reviews for The Analects of Confucius and the Skinny on Time Management then compare them to this review and identify five gems of wisdom.

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