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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Penn Reading Project Edition

By Benjamin Franklin. Edited by Peter Conn. Preface by Amy Gutmann

Publication Year: 2005

Printer and publisher, author and educator, scientist and inventor, statesman and philanthropist, Benjamin Franklin was the very embodiment of the American type of self-made man. In 1771, at the age of 65, he sat down to write his autobiography, "having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world, and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of felicity." The result is a classic of American literature.

On the eve of the tercentenary of Franklin's birth, the university he founded has selected the Autobiography for the Penn Reading Project. Each year, for the past fifteen years, the University of Pennsylvania has chosen a single work that the entire incoming class, and a large segment of the faculty and staff, read and discuss together. For this occasion the University of Pennsylvania Press will publish a special edition of Franklin's Autobiography, including a new preface by University president Amy Gutmann and an introduction by distinguished scholar Peter Conn. The volume will also include four short essays by noted Penn professors as well as a chronology of Franklin's life and the text of Franklin's Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania, a document resulting in the establishment of an institution of higher education that ultimately became the University of Pennsylvania.

No area of human endeavor escaped Franklin's keen attentions. His ideas and values, as Amy Gutmann notes in her remarks, have shaped the modern University of Pennsylvania profoundly, "more profoundly than have the founders of any other major university of college in the United States." Franklin believed that he had been born too soon. Readers will recognize that his spirit lives on at Penn today.

Essay contributors: Richard R. Beeman, Paul Guyer, Michael Weisberg, and Michael Zuckerman.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press


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p. vii

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Preface: The Power of Values

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pp. ix-xii

His famous personality and notable charisma helped to define a uniquely engaged American style and character, exemplified by many people you will meet at Penn. Franklin was not just a scientist (one of the world's first). He was not only an educational theorist (breaking with the classical curriculum of his day). Franklin loved learning. But he also ...

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Introduction: Benjamin Franklin and the American Imagination

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pp. 1-4

Benjamin Franklin himself was the first American who answered the New World's need to prove its cultural worthiness. He was the colonies' first world citizen, receiving homage on both sides of the Atlantic as the man who personified the peculiar genius of America. Self-reliant, unpretentious, yet thoroughly accomplished, Franklin seemed to be the ...


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The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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pp. 7-142

DEAR SON:2I have ever had pleasure in obtaining any little anecdotes of my ancestors. You may remember the inquiries I made among the remains of my relations when you were with me in England, and the journey I undertook for that purpose. Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to know the circumstances of mv life, many of which you are ...


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Benjamin Franklin and the American Enlightenment

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pp. 145-149

America's revolutionary leaders, though wary of excessive personal ambition, were nevertheless acutely conscious of their claim to fame with posterity. What they sought had little in common with celebrity, the fame we associate with Britney Spears, Posh Spice, or Donald Trump; indeed, it was nearly its antithesis. The pursuit of fame, in the ...

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Freedom of Reason

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pp. 150-153

Benjamin Franklin experienced irrational domination at an early age. with his formal education over by the age of ten and indentured at twelve to his older brother James to learn the trade of a printer, he later notes with remarkable calm that "I fancy his harsh and tyrannical treatment of me might be a means of impressing me with that aversion to ...

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An Inclination Joined with an Ability to Serve

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pp. 154-158

The myths have always threatened to swallow the man. The legends have always hid to absorb the life. But the myths have always been a hit ambiguous, and the legends a little elusive. In the conventional understanding, Franklin personified the opportunity America afforded people who were not well-born to seek their own ...

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The Key to Electricity

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pp. 159-164

The name "Benjamin Franklin" often evokes the image of an avuncular man flying a kite on a stormy night. It is indeed a striking picture: one of the founders of our country, a successful businessman, a diplomat, and the public face of the American Revolution spending his time contributing to the advancement of science-and putting his life at risk in ...


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pp. 165-178

Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania

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pp. 165-170

A Chronology of Franklin's Life

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pp. 171-178


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pp. 179-180

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200119
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812219296

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 607611281
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

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Subject Headings

  • Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790.
  • Statesmen -- United States -- Biography.
  • Scientists -- United States -- Biography.
  • Inventors -- United States -- Biography.
  • Education -- Pennsylvania.
  • Printers -- United States -- Biography.
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