My Copy: 9780760768617 (image from abebooks.com)
I was about to take it easy this pouring-down-rain 4th of July with a book written by a famous Canadian, but put it down in favor of a book written by one of the first Americans.
THE American, as far as the rest of the world was concerned.
It’s not a thick read, but I didn’t hesitate to devour it this morning, headache be damned.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is only about 150 pages, and while I was reading it, I was startled by many things. The first is the language–compared to other books written in the 18th century, this one is VERY easy to read. I remember trying to read The Federalist Papers for school (and on my own a few times) and I had to have the dictionary right next to me to clarify the context. Not so for this book. For anyone wanting a good glimpse into the early American mindset from the horse’s mouth, but aren’t so strong on deciphering antiquated language, this one’s a great resource.
I knew Franklin lived a varied life, but I’d forgotten so much of what was attributed to him. He really worked hard to find his niche and took advantage of other opportunities as they came along, really finding his groove as a printer and writer, but also as a public servant later. He admits to many mistakes, early failures, an the like, but also how he got around them or if he found a way to work with them and make improvements.
I thought it was interesting to find this book labeled as a self-help book in a lot of corners, but I don’t blame people for the label. There’s actually an interesting segment in one of the chapters, about virtues and being a more moral person, that could be a stand-alone self-help book in itself. I’m sure it would’ve been the first American self-help book long before this one came about!
And I’m writing down notes from this baby–there are some great suggestions and points of interest.
There are snippets of lessons Franklin learned spread throughout the pages, but also some rather timely nuggets that I think made my eyebrows raise. Heavens, the man penned the pages over 200 years ago, but some of the points he brings up are startlingly modern.
This one’s one of my fave examples (and I had a hard time narrowing them down):
…I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself… the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fixed opinion; such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted instead of them, I conceive, I comprehend, or I imagine, a thing to be so or so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but that in the present case there appeared or seemed to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manners; the conversations I engaged in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong; and I more easily prevailed with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.
I think this book is well-worth picking up.
Happy 4th (and happy reading)!