Autobiography of Ben Franklin

Biographies in general are a departure from my normal reading genre, almost exclusively fantasy. I came to find this book while aimlessly wandering around the internet. I found a few motivational tips that I thought were particularly interesting (mainly life hacks to form habits, be more productive, etc.) and found that Ben Franklin was cited as the source.

I’ve been known to look at the occasional self-help book, such as “The Wealthy Barber” and it’s sequel, but only when a particular subject struck my fancy (i.e. personal finance). In this case, I was bored out of my gourd and with a particularly unpleasant cold. I’d already exhausted my interest in Belgian Netflix and decided I might as well exercise my brain – even if only a little.

Ben Franklin’s autobiography is full of interesting facts concerning his life but what struck me as the most interesting was his writing style and how focused he was on the process of obtaining results and of improving himself and fellow man.

One interesting tool is his thirteen virtues. He had a list, as follows, containing various virtues which he believed were important for the character of any man.

  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 extremes; 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. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Rather than have fewer virtues, with overarching definitions, he opted for more virtues with more precise meanings. Then, once having these virtues, he prepared a booklet to follow his transgressions against each virtue on a weekly basis. An example format for the pages is shown below. Knowing that applying his focus on all the virtues simultaneously would prove overwhelming, he focused primarily on one virtue each week (13 weeks per cycle).

13 VirtuesSelf improvement is a popular topic, but this is one of the most methodical and practical solutions I’ve seen. It’s simple, it’s specific, measurable, and can be tweaked to preference. In particular, I find it intriguing that he would devise such a self improvement method in his early twenties.

There are several other pieces of advice scattered through this book (not excessively) that may prove to be useful and the subject mattered itself is quite interesting. I recommend anybody with some free time and a little interest to give this short read a shot. A free copy can be obtained from