Benjamin Franklin Autobiography (Annotated)

This was a weird addition.

I don’t often read biographies, and certainly not those of old Americans (my impression thus far was that colonialism in America was a black spot in history best forgotten, considering the impact it had on the native American populations.)

But this book blew me away.

Ben Franklin covers his life in such detail where it matters, and with such humility (even including the story of how he found that humility) .. leaving a wealth of lessons in its wake.

I particularly liked a part of the book where he dissects what it means to be “good”, and sets on the path to attain “goodness” as he defines it. I found it so impressive, that I’m including part of it below:

In the various enumerations of the moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalogue more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name. Temperance, for example, was by some confined to eating and drinking, while by others it was extended to mean the moderating every other pleasure, appetite, inclination, or passion, bodily or mental, even to our avarice and ambition. I propos’d to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex’d to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave to its meaning.

He then goes on to list these virtues, including:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i. e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

This struck such a strong chord with me because this is something I’ve asked myself many times (though having the Quran to assist me in my search, in addition to my introspective questioning).

In fact, he even goes further to mention the point:

the essentials of every known religion, and being free of everything that might shock the professors of any religion. It is expressed in these words, viz.: “That there is one God, who made all things. “That he governs the world by his providence. “That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving. “But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man. “That the soul is immortal. “And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here or hereafter.”

That’s a pretty good way to sum up many religions, with the palpable output of each being that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.

Great book, and definitely one I’d recommend you read.