The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

Last read: May 2021. My rating: 10/10.

TL;DR: Write lots, resolve conflict, and work hard. Inspiring and surprisingly engaging.

My Notes

Raw notes from reading his autobiography in Jan 2021.

In developing his prose, it was important to have a “rival” which forced him to improve on a regular basis (trading letters with a friendly rival)

To improve, find a much higher benchmark you can aim for and measure in practice (to do this, he regularly rewrote someone else's high quality essay and compared his version with the original)

Prose: break it down into many “hints” (thoughts). Shuffle them, write the prose, repeat. Turn them into verse. Do this with a benchmark work you can compare with.

Clearer thinking and faster learning when you limit your eating and drinking.

The Socratic method - the humble inquirer and doubter.

This image of a working clothes boy, near penniless, but confident in God’s provision and his abilities. Giving away his money and food to a mother and child on the boat with him.

Seems like the attitude of his brother well represents the attitude of general humanity at the success of another - resentment and jealousy.

The entrepreneur craftsman, as an expected and reputable way of life, seems greatly diminished in the modern age. Corollary: a monthly salary is such a hindrance on progress. In some cases. In other cases progress is only possible with large concerted effort.

He took the advice of the Quaker woman about the hookers on the boat. He was an “adult” (in [[Paul Graham]]'s sense of the word) - he didn’t rebel on all occasions.

It’s so important to have friends you can discourse with. To share intellectual exploration. To confer, argue and build.

Franklin was very keen to meet Isaac Newton, a huge figure at the time. That ambition is uncommon. But why wouldn’t you want to become acquainted with the world's biggest thinkers and doers?

Once a work is published, it’s important not to modify it. Think of it like a pamphlet: once printed, it cannot be amended, and one must learn from errors later spotted. Applying this reasoning to my online content, I realise that I must make a declaration of good faith that, once published, I will never ever modify the text of an article, though I may add post-scripts.

Entertainment and “spirited remarks” bring subscribers and patrons. People enjoy talking about scandal and edgy opinions

The way he grew his printing business is so interesting. Became the best at his craft. Saw and took opportunities to prove that he was better. Saw the coarse, blundering products of the others, and produced things clearly better. Then showed people.

He used his skill in writing to express opinions that others could not, thus advancing them and winning their favour. The ability to write is akin to the ability to build - it allows knowledge and thought to be used for the benefit of others at no additional cost. It’s a force multiplier. Good ideas don’t help if you can only express them in words to people in front of you. Unless you can use those words to inspire others to build. But either way, your knowledge and character is lost if you do not pour it into something durable and scalable.

Diligence, earnestness and hard work! Industrious and frugal. Kind, humane, benevolent.

He’s actually a massive hustler! Doing anything he can legally do to get around and behind his competitors. Finding clever ways. Not being satisfied by what the world (competitors) wants to make him do.

The patience and disinterestedness in the moment. Happily (truly) taking setbacks and waiting for advancement, content to grow and build his craft.

I wonder if the unruliness of the English language is directly caused by its widespread nature. The accepted forms of a language are defined through social consensus, and so if the number of speakers is smaller, a language will probably be better defined. I wonder if English has so many strange rules because it is in fact multiple languages being confined in one. It is multiple local optimum that happen to be close enough together that they appear one. Who decides how language is spoken? The people speaking it, of course. And if there are many separate groups of people, such as those separated by large bodies of water or land with very slow (and non-verbal) communication between them, then we shouldn’t be surprised that different rules and usages develop, and, over time, become merged into one language.

If you have a useful project or product, but you need other people’s cooperation or buy-in, don’t present yourself as the owner. People don’t like to see self promotion. Make yourself invisible as much as possible. When you pitch, they mustn’t see you at all.

1-2 hours of reading for the purpose of education & study each day

You can’t just decide to be virtuous; you must practice at being virtuous. Repent, then follow.

Began learning languages at 27, proficient quickly. French, Italian, Spanish

The junta club: 12 members ideal.

Asking for a favour (sincerely and with great civility) can have a great effect at turning an enemy into a friend and follower. Dangerous ground here, it’s a power play. Don’t manipulate.

What a vision - of walking through the village hearing psalms from every house. That can happen again, as it’s happened before!

30,000: the number of people a world-class orator can speak to in one gathering

Meta: the use of language is so important. Eloquence written or spoken.

Great speaking, as with great writing, is enjoyed as if it were a piece of music.

“Like considered harmful”. It’s a trapdoor, junk food. Ambiguous.

Contracts must be thorough to help avoid dispute

The war. He got the ball rolling. Proposed the system. Facilitated it. Did not take command but suggested another. Took his turn of duty as a common soldier. He didn’t lead, he organised. The power of administration.

He turned down a patent, believing that it restricted progress and invention, and that we should be generous with our inventions and give them freely. We may ask compensation instead for our diligence and industry, to which anyone may apply themselves.

He never stood still, and yet he was constantly in a rhythm. He never stopped moving, yet his movement required no force. No friction. He seems to never stop, but at the same time he doesn’t appear to ever push. He knows progress and opportunity is all around and will happen if he waits for it expectantly. He sees it, and keeps walking. And because he never runs, he never tires.

Meta: his strategy for getting something done is very simple. Write a “pamphlet” describing the arguments, spread it, then, a few days later, once the proposal has had time to settle in, go around collecting subscriptions. Always write a proposal first. Spread it for thought and comment.

Instead of giving the sweeper woman a coin and ignoring her, he gave her a job and promised a reward. He gave her the benefit of the doubt, instead of giving her something to shut her up (and satisfy his conscience).

Keep your employees continually at work, never letting them idle with a chance to moan and find fault. Not overworked, just always engaged in productive work. Giving satisfaction every day of a job well done.

He took so much pleasure in his natural philosophy, and indeed pursued it for its own sake!