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5 Books by Benjamin Franklin About Self-Improvement

I like to read the writings of famous people to study their background and learn from them. Ben Franklin is one of my favorites. Here’s why.

Benjamin Franklin books are incredibly interesting and entertaining. Read on to learn about my top five.

Benjamin Franklin books are incredibly interesting and entertaining. Read on to learn about my top five.

Besides Benjamin Franklin's political and scientific preoccupation, he is well-known as an author. He wrote many self-improvement stories about life and living. The following is a review of his five best books that I've read.

Ben Franklin's Personal Life

Benjamin Franklin was born January 17th, 1706, into poverty and became one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

His first job was working for a newspaper, which began his writing career. His first love was with a married woman at the age of 18. He pulled himself out of poverty with many business endeavors and became famous for many of his accomplishments.

He shared his life experiences to provide advice and guidance for others, and he spent much of his time writing.

He published many books that I found very worthwhile reading. He had the knack for providing many engaging stories that helped his readers with many aspects of their lives.

He wrote in such a way that I felt as if I were reading a personal email from him. He had the reader in mind whenever he wrote anything for his books.

He was a revolutionary statesman and was involved with the Committee of Five1 that drafted the Declaration of Independence. His signature is also on the United States Constitution and the peace treaty for the end of the Revolutionary War with Britain.

In addition to his political involvement, Franklin is famous for exploring electricity and is known as an inspirational philosopher, successful businessman, civic leader, entrepreneur, investor, inventor, and scientist. I would put him right up there as a famous writer too.

He said in his autobiography that writing has been of great use in the course of his life. Benjamin Franklin is one of my favorite authors because I relate to his feelings.

I, too, have always found writing to be advantageous in helping one to focus on what's important in our endeavors. That is why I appreciate Franklin's writings.

He was part of a large family with nine other siblings. His parents were Josiah and Mary. Josiah Franklin came to the US in (circa) 1683, where he married Mary (whose surname is not known in public records). Their ten children were Benjamin, John, Peter, James, Ebenezer, Thomas, Mary, Sarah, Lydia and Jane.2

Why I Like Franklin’s Writing

He especially liked to write about how he solved problems encountered in life, and he had many. He seemed to always have conflicting issues in life, much of which he brought on by himself.

I learned lots of valuable viewpoints about many different subjects from reading his books. Each one related to some part of my life that I found brought a better understanding of my own affairs. All his writings offer a tremendous wealth of knowledge.

The following is a review of Ben Franklin’s books that I've read. I’ll give you an idea of what I've learned from them.

5 Benjamin Franklin Books About Self-Improvement

  1. The Way to Wealth
  2. Poor Richard's Almanack
  3. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
  4. Franklin: Writings
  5. Benjamin Franklin's The Art of Virtue: His Formula for Successful Living

1. The Way to Wealth

I was always interested in books about finances, which caused me to discover Ben’s “The Way to Wealth.” Since he was also an investor, he had a lot to share about achieving wealth and prosperity.

He had many sayings in this book that became well-known quotes, such as “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Ben took the content he wrote over 25 years for his “Poor Richard's Almanack” compiled it into this short 30-page pocket-sized book. That served the purpose well for a simple stand-alone financial advice book.

Although he left out most of the hundreds of sayings and adages that he wrote in the Almanack, many became famous proverbs.

As an author myself, I find what Franklin did with The Way to Wealth was clever, since the material we create for one subject can often apply to a different topic if it’s along the same logical path.

2. Poor Richard's Almanack

At the request of his wife (as he called her) to make extra money from his writing, Franklin started creating annual papers in 1733 for the public good (as he put it) under his pseudonym, Richard Saunders.

He called it Poor Richard's Almanack. He continued writing annual editions of the Almanack for 25 years, until 1758. They have now all been combined into this book, where I discovered that he had a poetic and humorous side to himself.

Poor Richard's Almanack is also where I found many of Franklin's thought-provoking sayings and adages, such as the following quote from his first edition:

"Relation without friendship, friendship without power, power without will, will without effect, effect without profit, & profit without virtue, are not worth a farto."
— Ben Franklin - Poor Richard's Almanack, 1733

Ben had his way with words, such as his use of Farto, which is the emotional feeling caused by an embarrassing moment.

I can't help but recommend keeping a copy of Poor Richard's Almanack on your coffee table or close by. I turn to it whenever I feel the need for encouragement. I randomly flip through pages and always find something meaningful for the moment in my life.

"You cannot pluck roses without fear of thorns, Nor enjoy a fair wife without danger of horns."
— Ben Franklin - Poor Richard's Almanack, 1734

3. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Besides all of Ben’s achievements, he did have a life of uncertainty and confusion. Some historians claim his son William was an illegitimate son he had with an unknown woman. Some say he had many affairs and never married.

Ben has spoken about a mysterious woman by the name of Barbara, having had his illegitimate child. But she was never found.

Other accounts claim William was the son of Deborah Read, whom Ben had an affair with while she was still married.

It’s more likely that Deborah Read was the mother, and I think Ben kept the truth a secret because she was still married when she would have conceived. In those days, it would have created quite a scandal.

After Deborah’s husband died, she and Ben lived together. They never married but had a common-law marriage, without any ceremony or any record of marriage.

In any case, the letters in this autobiography are the most candid and honest accounts of his life that I’ve found. I find the fact that they were written for his son to be significant.

Ben didn’t always get along well with William, and I think this was his way of communicating everything he needed to share with his son. What an incredible way to create an autobiography.

It's tedious to read much of the content of the letters in his autobiography, but I found it interesting to compare what I learned from it with other historical notes about his son.3

William became an attorney and was a colonial administrator. During the American Revolution, William refused to join the patriotic rebellion against royal authority.

Ben used his influence to make his son the royal governor of New Jersey in 1767. However, William was unwilling to repay his father's generosity. William was against anything that had to do with the plans for independence from the British loyalists.

4. Franklin: Writings

If you want to read only one book by Ben Franklin, this is the one. Among his miscellaneous writings, this book also contains all the issues of Poor Richards Almanack and his Autobiography.

This book also contains many of his personal letters. I found a letter to his sister, Jenny (Jane Franklin Mecom), where he mentions that he wrote a whole "Book of Devotions" about his religious beliefs for his own use.4 He wrote a lot about religion in various places.

I especially found interesting his detailed discussions through his letters explaining mathematical curiosities that he had discovered5, explanations of weather patterns such as hurricanes and whirlwinds6, and experiments using electric shock to cure paralysis7, which later proved to have no lasting effect. Of course, he was well known for his studies, in 1750, of the electrical nature of lightning.8

He’s most well known for discovering the power of electricity. But I discovered he had many scientific interests that he wrote about in his Poor Richard's annual almanacs. That was all in addition to his inspirational messages about living life to the fullest.

One thing stood out for me more than any of his scientific research. Despite his commitment issues, he nevertheless got into an argument in written letters back and forth with a friend, James Reed, where he tried to explain to James that "all wives are in the right." Ben went on to say that James must not understand that, because "for you are yet but a young husband."9

5. Benjamin Franklin's The Art of Virtue: His Formula for Successful Living

Ben was working on a final book that he never finished. He wrote many notes for a planned guide to living. These miscellaneous notes were available as “Ben Franklin's Unfinished Guide to Living” and were later compiled into a single book and published by editor George L. Rogers.

Rogers named it "Benjamin Franklin's The Art of Virtue: His Formula for Successful Living." Ben was thinking of using the name “The Art of Virtue” for a book ever since he was 26. He mentioned this in a letter to Lord Kames when he was 54 and still never completed it.

You may be familiar with the saying that you should be careful with what you want, because you may just get it. That logic is all about the way we overlook the difference between what we need and what we want.

Franklin discussed this concept in a couple of chapters, and I think it came from the way he had difficulty choosing between his desires and his needs in his own life.

I discovered that Franklin was a very religious man. Much of this book is dedicated to discussions of faith and the immortality of the soul.

Nevertheless, this book includes many discussions about achieving success with wealth, health, relationships, and conflicts in life.

Franklin’s Self-Help Books Are Better Than Today’s

Within these five books, I find the actual letters and other writings by Ben Franklin to be the most reliable account of his life. They are the most educational and offer the most inspirational anecdotes.

The compilations that include commentary from historians bother me somewhat. Some historians who wrote biographies of Franklin tried to destroy his reputation by writing about his many affairs in a negative light. The stories about his son, William, were never proven factual. Some historians called William his bastard son born by another woman since Ben was known to chase after women. Few, however, ever documented their sources.

I indicated earlier in this article that I think he might have made up the existence of this other woman to protect Deborah Read’s dignity, being that she was still a married woman at the time of William’s birth.

In The Art of Virtue, the editor (Rogers) noted that Franklin claimed he had married Deborah Read in September 1730. That was after her first husband died, and Ben must have said that because they did have a common-law marriage anyway.

To this day, in everything I’ve read about Franklin, I can’t find legitimate commentary that confirms the truth of these details.

As for his writings, I can relate to his desire to share his life story, his ideas, and his solutions to life’s problems. I found that his books provide more insight than many present-day self-help books. He was a genius.

"I have here, according to your Request, given you my present Thoughts of the general State of Things in the Universe. Such as they are, you have them, and are welcome to 'em; and if they yield you any Pleasure or Satisfaction, I shall think my Trouble sufficiently compensated."
— Benjamin Franklin (letter to Mr. J.R. - "Franklin: Writings" pg 57)

References

  1. Congress appoints Committee of Five to draft the Declaration of Independence.” (Published November 13, 2009). History.com
  2. Benjamin Franklin, Vol 1, Carl Van Doran, Simon Publications, pg 4-5. ISBN: 978-0517625323
  3. Ibid, pg 93
  4. Franklin: Writings, pg 427. ISBN: 978-0940450295
  5. Ibid, pg 448
  6. Ibid, pg 454
  7. Ibid, pg 749
  8. Benjamin Franklin. (October 19, 1752). “The Kite Experiment, 19 October 1752.” National Archives | Founders Online
  9. Franklin: Writings, pg 429. ISBN: 978-0940450295

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Glenn Stok