The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is a great book about perfecting oneself. The writer, one of the most interesting figures in history, a larger than life entrepreneur and inventor, comes across as very approachable and down to earth.

At the beginning he tells us he would like to relive his life, but as this is unlikely to happen, the closest thing he has is writing his own biography. He just asks us for one thing, as any writer is allowed to correct some mistakes in the second edition of any book, he would like to do the same thing with his life and correct his erratas as he calls them.

The first two parts —which I liked much more than the later two— are written first as letters to his son, and then as an exploration into his system of values.

The first part is interesting because we start to understand his ethics as a learner. Since he was very little he loved to read and he says “From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books.” This passion of his will become very useful later in his life when he is invited by many governors to talk books and authors with them, helping him make friends that would become instrumental to his success.

Then, while still very young, he noticed his writing was not elegant enough and devised a system to improve it.

Still, the most impressive thing for me was the system of values he developed with the purpose of becoming the best possible version of himself. When he was 20 years old, he listed the 13 virtues he thought would make any men virtuous, and decided to act according to them from then on. And so he did. He attributes much of his success to this practice.

Now, you will find a collection of the quotes I enjoyed the most from the book:

“Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”

“The mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping, and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.”

“My father convinced me that nothing was useful which was not honest

“Immodest words admit but this defense, For want of modesty is want of sense.”

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.”

“I procur’d Xenophon’s Memorable Things of Socrates, wherein there are many instances of the same method. I was charmed with it, adopted it, dropped my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer and doubter.”

“Truth, sincerity, and integrity, in dealings between man and man, were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life.”

“In London, I had by no means improved my fortune; but I had picked up some very ingenious acquaintance, whose conversation was of great advantage to me; and I had read considerably.”

“As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.”“The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discussed by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates where to be under the direction of a president, and to be continued in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradictions, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.”

“As no end likewise happens without a means, so we shall find, sir, that even yourself framed a plan by which you become considerable; but at the same time we may see that, though the event is flattering, the means are as simple as wisdom could make them that is, depending upon nature, virtue, thought, and habit.” —Benjamin Vaughan

“Nothing so likely to make a man’s fortune as virtue

“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”