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I bet you didn't know that Ben Franklin was pro-vax!

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - Benjamin Franklin

I have a love/hate relationship with one of my book clubs. I love to hate the books they choose. And this one I was determined to hate. Funny thing though, I can't hate this book. In the age of self aggrandizing ghost-written puff-piece memoirs, this was refreshingly humble. Which is ironic because Ben Franklin kind of seems full of himself. Of course, it ends around 1757 when he was a merely middle aged and well before many of the historical juicy bits really happen.

The phrasing and vocabulary clearly point to the fact that this isn't anything modern, yet it wasn't oppressively formal. I confess to having read little to no English literature of the period, so I can't honestly make a comparison. I can say that Ben Franklin's writing was decidedly unfancy, and I would bet a nickel that he didn't have an editor.

It's worth pondering whether he intended to complete this, and what it might have become of it if he did (set aside the conundrum that one can not truly complete one's autobiography). Looking at the timeline, he started writing in 1771, after the Boston Massacre but well before the first Continental Congress. It seemed that he kind of got busy with other things because he didn't pick it back up until 1784. You have to admit, there is a bit of irony in the fact that his autobiography writing was interrupted by the season of his life for which he is most notorious.

Personally, I am happy that it didn't cover the American Revolution as that period is well documented and it would have tripled the length of the book. He was a terribly practicable person, a trait that clearly served him well in politics and his diplomatic career. In demonstrating that all politics are local, he spent several pages on how he garnered support for paving the streets of Boston. What I found interesting about this was how he thought it was important to discuss the drainage and nuances of gutter design. Even though is is primarily thought of as a politician, he can't seem to keep his inner engineer at bay. Combine the scientific pursuits with his dabbling in poetry, philosophy and you have a true renaissance man. You did get some glimpses into his the events that he deemed important, and there were several tidbits that I found interesting:

* He rebellious inclinations may have started when working for his brother

* Having lost a son to small pox, Ben Franklin was pro-vax. He urged parents to get their children vaccinated!

* Ben Franklin thought that women would benefit more from learning basic bookkeeping skills than dance or music. Maybe he was a proto-feminist.

* Ben Franklin would have probably been a big open source advocate. He never bothered to patent his now famous Franklin stove and he couldn't be bothered to pursue legal matters over those who stole the design and patented it. He was just happy that people benefited from it.

To be sure, there were plenty of booorrrrrriiinnnnggg passages between the interesting bits. There were times when I thought, why the hell is he prattling on about a Reverend Whitefield and how traveling preachers are better because they can preach the same sermon over and over and with such repetition comes practice and improvement. I'm sure that's true, but if it was important to your life Mr. Franklin, I was too bored to notice.