One man’s futile quest to live up to Benjamin Franklin’s famous virtues.
Because readers already know that Franklin could never live up to the 13 virtues he advocated, it’s no surprise that Gunn was unable to effectively follow them either. Unfortunately, there’s really nothing at stake in this featherweight experiment. Gunn is not nearly as mediocre as he claims to be. He’s a successful trial lawyer in a functional marriage with healthy children. He’s overweight, balding and supposedly slothful, but his life doesn’t seem to demand any significant moral or ethical overhaul. Thus, the book becomes more about self-importance than self-improvement, despite the self-deprecation on every page. Gunn continually assures his audience that he’s not worthy of Franklin, then proceeds to fail in multifarious ways at attaining Franklinian perfection. All the reader is left with are a few ironic end-of-chapter jokes about the author’s inability to be virtuous—e.g., Gunn’s attempt at embodying the virtue of “Frugality.” The author failed at being frugal by misinterpreting the meaning of the word, mistaking random acts of generosity for frugality. To his surprise, his act of buying breakfast for a stranger is interpreted as a creepy come-on. The climactic moment in the chapter on “Sincerity” occurs when Gunn tells his wife that she’s an extraordinary person. The chapter on “Chastity” obviously presented a problem for a devoted husband, and all the author can muster are a few platitudes about the importance of communication in marriage and that “trying new things together can also stimulate romance.” His attempt to follow Franklin and imitate Jesus and Socrates in “Humility” ended up with an epiphany concerning his own obvious hubris. His closing thoughts? “The secret to being better is to try.”
A self-indulgent self-help experiment that yields little.