Discussion Topics

  1. What in your opinion is the author attempting to accomplish with Poor Richard’s Lament?
  2. Why might the author have chosen Benjamin Franklin as the protagonist? Was he successful?
  3. What it the author had narrated PRL in his own voice instead of in Ben Franklin’s 18th century voice?
  4. How did you respond to Ben as portrayed? How would you characterize the Ben of the first half of PRL with the Ben of the second half?
  5. A biography on Ben Franklin would likely focus on key events. PRL focuses on key relationships. What are some of the key relationships in PRL, and how do these serve the purposes of the novel? How were you affected by them?
  6. In the celestial court, Ben Franklin presents his résumé (through three surrogates) as a way of establishing his worthiness. Was this approach surprising to you at all? In fact, isn’t this the very approach most of us use to establish our worthiness to those who would judge us? What might our emphasis on our (inflated?) résumés say about us?
  7. Lack of balance is a major theme in PRL. In what particular ways was Ben’s life revealed to have been out of balance? In what particular ways might our own lives be out of balance in the present? Might there be a connection between Ben and us in this regard, even across two centuries?
  8. Two sets of colors (black and white; and red, green, and blue) are recurrent throughout PRL. What role do these colors play in the novel?
  9. Near the end of the “Trials” part of PRL, the Madonna asks Ben: “Do you apprehend, good sir, the essential maternity of all being?” What does the Madonna mean by “the essential maternity of all being?”
  10. In New York, Ben delivers two homilies on leadership, one at the Waldorf Astoria, the other at the Holy Apostles soup kitchen. What basic truth about leadership is central to both homilies? In light of Ben’s view on leadership, how would you assess the general state of leadership in the world today?
  11. Ben is confronted with several incidences in which he engaged in “a little expediency” for the sake of gaining “a little conveniency.” These incidences include Ben profiting from the public sale of Negros (including young children, some of these to be separated from their mothers) by running advertisements for their sale in his newspaper. Can you point to any examples in the present of “a little expediency” being used to gain “a little conveniency?”
  12. Ben Franklin was an exemplary figure in many ways, including as statesman and natural philosopher, but not as father or husband. Some of Ben’s behavior toward his own family, in fact, was nothing short of horrifying. Why might Ben Franklin have treated his family so badly?
  13. Some experiences / books change us a lot, some change us a little, some change us not at all. What effect if any did PRL have on you personally?
  14. In the back matter of PRL, the reader encounters a variation on a refrain that Ben hears throughout the novel. The variation reads: “All that might have been, all that might yet be, all is in your hands, dear reader; there is no one else.” What is the likely intention of this refrain as amended?
  15. At the very end of PRL, a short poem appears under the title “last Word.” What is the message of this poem, and how does this message relate to the novel proper? Who is the author of the poem, and whom is he addressing?
  16. One of PRL’s reviewers suggested that PRL “should be required reading in every high school and college in the nation.” What about PRL might have prompted this reviewer to make this suggestion? Do you agree or disagree?
  17. What is your interpretation of the refrain, recurrent throughout the novel, “The circle is the only geometry?” Where do we see examples of the possible truth of it?

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