Ben and Barack

Two books. Only one read. Can you guess which?

The story of Benjamin Franklin

It was a radical trip to the book store; one of those outings where I was unlikely to return with something run-of-the-mill because I didn’t need run-of-the-mill that day. I’ve already written about my encounter with Thomas De Quincey’s On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts. The other purchase, that day, was the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

It is important to read something a bit unusual, something a bit harder than usual, in order to give our brain cells a bit of a stretch. And, not forgetting, it is important to expand the boundaries of our world-view. My radical purchases that day ticked all those boxes, yet neither were particularly enjoyable, although enjoy-ability doesn’t automatically dissipate because a book was written centuries ago.

I shall, nevertheless, raise a glass: To Ben and his huge ego, crammed into a small volume with very tiny print.

Ben’s spine is a little over a quarter of an inch, or about 75 millimeters, which does make it an easy book to handle. Small print used to be a problem. I now own a book light. It clips on and illuminates with wonderful exactness.

History books are well worth the effort. Ben writes about how he and a few friends got things started in the new colony that later became the USA. I was particularly interested in the process of ‘subscription’.

We see that word used in connection with magazines and newspapers, paying in advance, but Ben uses it for a range of other services – a group of people pay a subscription that pools their funds to get a local service started. More like buying shares than paying taxes, ensuring that the benefit only goes to those with enough disposable capital to afford it.

To be fair to Ben, he also convinced the local Assemblies to join together for the greater good and fund an army for the mutual protection of all.

A promised land

Around the time of that radical trip to the book store, I risked an online purchase with Barack Obama’s A Promised Land.

Oh my! This is a spine of some magnitude, spanning 550 millimeters. That’s nearly two and half inches in the old money. I didn’t notice the size when making the purchase and was rather alarmed when the package arrived. I’m still not sure how to manage the physical act of reading it, but we are back in lock down, so I might need to find a way.

Barack writes in the preface: “It’s fair to say that the writing process didn’t go exactly as I’d planned. Despite my best intentions, the book kept growing in length and scope …” And it doesn’t end there. There is another planned.

Making a list

In contrast, Ben seems to have kept a tight reign on his content. The publisher added a preface, of sorts, and titled it “Franklin’s Outline for His Autobiography“. It is a list, perhaps in chronological order, of the things he planned to include: “Pamphlet on Paper Money. Gazette from Keimer. Junto credit; its plan. Marry. Library erected. Manner of conducting the project. Its plan and utility. Children. Almanac. The use I made of it.”

It is a tightly packed list, a little over three pages long.

I then wondered how such a list of my life might be compiled and what it would look like. And no, I haven’t started one yet. You are spared; for now.


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