This study will provide a critical review of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, focusing on how that memoir sheds light on his entrepreneurial development. Franklin's life is a combination of individualism and conformity. The Autobiography ends before the Revolutionary years, covering his life to 1757, but the work does show how Franklin established himself in his community and nation as a leader, thinker, businessman, inventor and moralist. Editor Russel B. Nye seems intent on minimizing Franklin's economics-related aphorisms, as well as his money-making ambition in general: "Franklin's business career, successful as it was, was but a brief interlude in a long, full life" (Franklin xi). Nevertheless, for better or worse, Franklin's "spirit of capitalism," as Max Weber puts it, is clearly the major facet of Franklin's life as he himself portrays it in this book, his story of his own life. The central question with which Franklin clearly seems concerned is not spiritual, not philosophical, not even social or political, but economic. The memoir, then, is his account of his own triumph over "poverty and obscurity" (Franklin 1).
Franklin may be associated with moralistic aphorisms, and might tell himself and others to "Imitate Jesus and Socrates" (77), but in his youth he is not averse to pushing behavioral boundaries. He resists the authority of both his brother and father and admits "Perhaps I was too saucy and provoking" (Franklin 18). Franklin develops early his desire to seek his own way in life, and there is much evidence that wealth and the reputation and power it gives are essential elements in that way of life.
From the beginning to the end of the memoir, Franklin emphasizes economics, advancement in his career, or various careers, and, in general, a central concern for establishing his wealth and exercising the resultant power in society. On the first page of the autobiography, addressing his son, Franklin writes,