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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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