Printer and publisher, author and educator, scientist and
inventor, statesman and philanthropist, Benjamin Franklin was the
very embodiment of the American type of self-made man. In 1771, at
the age of 65, he sat down to write his autobiography, "having
emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred
to a state of affluence and some degree of reputation in the world,
and having gone so far through life with a considerable share of
felicity." The result is a classic of American literature.
On the eve of the tercentenary of Franklin's birth, the university
he founded has selected the Autobiography for the Penn
Reading Project. Each year, for the past fifteen years, the
University of Pennsylvania has chosen a single work that the entire
incoming class, and a large segment of the faculty and staff, read
and discuss together. For this occasion the University of
Pennsylvania Press will publish a special edition of Franklin's
Autobiography, including a new preface by University
president Amy Gutmann and an introduction by distinguished scholar
Peter Conn. The volume will also include four short essays by noted
Penn professors as well as a chronology of Franklin's life and the
text of Franklin's Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth
in Pennsylvania, a document resulting in the establishment of
an institution of higher education that ultimately became the
University of Pennsylvania.
No area of human endeavor escaped Franklin's keen attentions. His
ideas and values, as Amy Gutmann notes in her remarks, have shaped
the modern University of Pennsylvania profoundly, "more profoundly
than have the founders of any other major university of college in
the United States." Franklin believed that he had been born too
soon. Readers will recognize that his spirit lives on at Penn
Essay contributors: Richard R. Beeman, Paul Guyer, Michael
Weisberg, and Michael Zuckerman.
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