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Book Details

  • Paperback
  • Bookstore's Wholesale Price: $17.00
  • January 2012
  • ISBN: 978-0-393-93561-5
  • 480 pages
  • Territory Rights: Worldwide

Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography

Norton Critical Editions

New Edition


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Benjamin Franklin (Author), Joyce E. Chaplin (Editor, Harvard University)


The only edition of the celebrated Autobiography that includes the long-missing and recently identified “Wagon Letters.”

Written during the most eventful years of Benjamin Franklin's life (1771–90), the Autobiography is one of the most influential memoirs in history. This newly edited Norton Critical Edition includes an introduction that explains the history of the Autobiography within the larger history of the life-writing genre as well as within the history of celebrity. The text is accompanied by new and expanded explanatory annotations and by a map, an illustration, and six facsimiles.

“Contexts” presents a broader view of Franklin’s life with a journal entry from a 1726 voyage, correspondence, a Poor Richard piece on ambition and fame, Franklin’s views on self-improvement, and his last will (and codicil).

“Criticism” draws on a wealth of material that reflects both the wide range of Franklin’s achievements and the global impact of his life and memoirs. New international voices in “Contemporary Opinions” include Immanuel Kant, Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau, José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez, and José Francisco Correia da Serra. “Nineteenth-Century Opinions” includes Humphry Davy on Franklin’s discovery of electricity as well as Empress Shoken of Japan’s Franklin-inspired poem. Finally, “Modern Opinions” reprints important pieces: I. B. Cohen on Franklin and the Autobiography's importance to science; Michael Warner’s theoretical interpretation of the practices of writing and printing and what they tell us about Franklin; and Peter Stallybrass’s insightful and engaging history-of-the-book perspective on Franklin’s writing generally and the Autobiography specifically.

A Chronology of Franklin’s life, a Selected Bibliography, and an Index are also included.




    Notes on the Text

    Maps: Franklin’s Boston, Philadelphia, and London

    The Text of the Autobiography

    • The Autobiography
    • “A Quire Book of Letters”
    • The Outline of the Autobiography
    • A Guide to People Mentioned in the Autobiography


      • Journal of a Voyage, 1726
      • Excerpts from Franklin’s Letters Mentioning the Autobiography
      • “Authentic Memoir of Dr. Franklyn”



      • From Poor Richard Improved, 1750
      • From Poor Richard Improved, Jan. 1758
      • To Sarah (Franklin) Bache, June 3, 1779
      • From Benjamin Vaughn, May 1785
      • From Jane Mecom, July 21, 1786


      • To Cadwallader Colden, Sept. 29, 1748
      • To William Strahan, June 2, 1750
      • To Jane Mecom, Dec. 30, 1770
      • To Thomas Cushing, June 10, 1771
      • Benjamin Vaughn to Lord Shelburne, Nov. 24, 1782
      • To Robert Morris, Dec. 25, 1783
      • To Benjamin Vaughn, July 26, 1784
      • Last Will and Testament, 1788, and Codicil, 1789


      • Franklin’s Epitaph, 1728
      • Franklin’s Junto Query on Human Perfection, 1732
      • [Poor Richard on Self-Improvement, 1749]
      • Rules for Making Oneself a Disagreeable Companion, 1749
      • To Lord Kames, May 3, 1760
      • To Abiah Franklin, Apr. 12, 1750
      • To Joseph Priestley, Sept. 19, 1772



      • Immanuel Kant [The Modern Prometheus]
      • David Hume To Franklin, May 10, 1762
      • Franklin in the Cockpit The Pennsylvania Gazette Report, 1774
      • Benjamin Vaughn’s Account, 1779
      • Edmund Burke To Count Patrick D’Arcy, Oct. 5, 1775
      • From the New-Jersey Gazette, Dec. 31, 1777
      • Peter Oliver From Origins & Progress of the American Rebellion
      • Richard Price To Franklin, May 1790
      • Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau Eulogy for Franklin before the National Assembly of France, 1790
      • José Antonio de Alzate y Ramírez A Brief Eulogy for Benjamin Franklin, 1790
      • José Francisco Correia da Serra Eulogy for Franklin to the Royal Academy of Sciences, Lisbon, 1791
      • John Adams On Franklin, May 15, 1811


      • Francis, Lord Jeffrey From the Edinburgh Review, 1806
      • Charles Brockden Brown From Literary Magazine, 1806
      • John Keats To George and Georgiana Keats, Oct. 14–31, 1818
      • Humphry Davy Historical Sketch of Electrical Discovery
      • Edgar Allan Poe The Business Man
      • Leigh Hunt From Hunt’s Autobiography
      • Herman Melville From Israel Potter
      • Mark Twain The Late Benjamin Franklin
      • Empress Shōken of Japan [A Franklinian Poem], c. 1890
      • Frederick Jackson Turner FromThe Dial, May 1887
      • William Dean Howells •  From Editor’s Study, Apr. 1888
          • From Editor’s Study, July 1888
          • From Editor’s Study, Jan. 1890
          • From Editor’s Easy Chair, Oct. 1905


      • Max Weber From The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
      • D. H. Lawrence Benjamin Franklin
      • W. Somerset Maugham [The Classic Books of America]
      • I. B. Cohen Franklin and Science
      • David Levin The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin: The Puritan Experimenter in Life and Art
      • Michael Warner Franklin: The Representational Politics of the Man of Letters
      • Peter Stallybrass Benjamin Franklin: Printed Collections and Erasable Writing

    Benjamin Franklin: A Chronology

    Selected Bibliography