Anyone serious about getting the most out of life could be served by the example of Benjamin Franklin.
I’m not just talking about following maxims such as “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” The mouthpieces of Franklin’s wisdom, such as Poor Richard, were hilarious and sometimes brilliant. But the man himself was Promethean.
Yes, you could look to gurus such as Russell Conwell, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Stephen Covey, or Tim Ferriss for advice on how to flourish in life; they offer sound and valuable ideas. Or you could go to the root of the whole principle of rigorous, self-conscious self-improvement. Franklin’s life was the model. He was an innovative entrepreneur who built a network of printers throughout the colonies; spearheaded numerous cooperative enterprises, including a university, a philosophical society, a hospital, a fire company, and a volunteer militia; and though he wasn’t a mathematical theoretician, Franklin was a world-class scientist and inventor. He was also indispensable to the American Revolution. As historian Gordon Wood wrote, “He was the greatest diplomat America has ever had.”1 When he met his French literary counterpart, Voltaire, people cheered that Solon, the celebrated Athenian lawgiver, had embraced Sophocles, the renowned Athenian playwright. And Franklin did more than help create America. He cast the mold for an American ideal: that a free man may rise as high as his ambition will take him, and that his mind and effort are what matter, not his position at birth.
In sum, Benjamin Franklin personified the Enlightenment. If you’re not familiar with Franklin’s life and accomplishments, then you’re missing out on one of the most inspiring and instructive stories in world history.
‘Industry Need Not Wish.’2
Benjamin Franklin—who became the world’s most famous scientist during his life—had only two years of schooling. He was a genius no doubt. More important, he was ambitious.
Books were his first love. By the age of twelve, he had read every book in his house, then got a friend who worked at a bookshop to let him sample the merchandise. “Often I sat up in my room reading the greatest part of the night,” Franklin recalled in his tremendous Autobiography, “when the book was borrowed in the evening and to be returned early in the morning lest it should be missed or wanted.”3 Among others, Franklin read Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, Daniel Defoe’s An Essay Upon Projects, and Cotton Mather’s Essays to Do Good. He imbibed their exhortations to morality and industry but not their religiosity. . . .