Learning Source: Completing Ben Franklin’s Autobiography


Mark Skousen, a direct descendent of Benjamin Franklin, discusses in an interview how he completed Ben Franklin’s autobiography.

One of the problems is that a lot of his papers and his letters have been lost so I didn’t know how comprehensive I could be. There were some areas that were thin … You’ll notice … some paragraphs draw upon four, five, sometimes 10 different letters or other documents that Franklin wrote. I relied substantially [during] the majority of my work upon the official papers of Benjamin Franklin that are currently being compiled at Yale University. However, they haven’t completed the last 10 years of his life.

When I first heard the title of this book, I thought, “Oh, yea. A joke. Someone taking advantage of another famous personage.” I promptly put the book release announcement in my brain dump. That decision of mine was a mistake. The interview insights about writing appear useful independent from the published manuscript.

Setting the political context of the interview aside, Skousen’s comments inform student writers about how an accomplished writer works. He explains sources of the information he summarizes, how he focused on facts vs. speculations and interpretations. For example, Skousen notes that Franklin wrote nothing about his part in what lead to the Declaration of Independence. This left the biographer a difficult task to recreate Franklin’s part.

I find this interview intriguing. Perhaps student writers with fifth or sixth grade (newspaper level) vocabulary will also.

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Robert Heiny
Robert W. Heiny, Ph.D. is a retired professor, social scientist, and business partner with previous academic appointments as a public school classroom teacher, senior faculty, or senior research member, and administrator. Appointments included at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Peabody College and the Kennedy Center now of Vanderbilt University; and Brandeis University. Dr. Heiny also served as Director of the Montana Center on Disabilities. His peer reviewed contributions to education include publication in [I]The Encyclopedia of Education [/I](1971), and in professional journals and conferences. He served s an expert reviewer of proposals to USOE, and on a team that wrote plans for 12 state-wide and multistate special education and preschools programs. He currently writes user guides for educators and learners as well as columns for [I]TuxReports[/I].com.