Expertise pays; polymathy pays exponentially. Build a world-class skillset that will make you unique and irreplaceable.
Polymath: a person of wide knowledge and learning. The art of becoming a polymath is really about maximizing your opportunities in life. Don’t be the person with the hammer – be the person with an entire woodshop at their disposal. Learn to think outside the box and adopt a flexible mindset. Become multi-faceted.
Benjamin Franklin is one of American history’s most successful and influential figures. What exactly was he famous for? At this point he’s mostly relegated to political theory, but during his own time, he was known for just about everything. Franklin was an accomplished inventor, respected politician and leading scientist. He engaged with current affairs, wrote prolifically on many topics, and acted as a diplomat, statesman, and passionate activist.
He was a businessman who founded many organizations, such as the University of Pennsylvania and the first ever fire department in Philadelphia. Franklin was a postmaster and political satirist. He invented a more efficient freestanding stove, a musical instrument (the armonica, if you’re interested) and bifocals to deal with his own failing vision. He dabbled in electricity and conducted the famous lightning, metal key, and kite experiment. Oh, and he was one of the five key people who put together the American Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution.
His immense contributions to a wide range of fields make people wonder where the United States of American would even be without Benjamin Franklin. Many schoolchildren accidentally believe he was a president at some point—it’s not true, but it isn’t hard to imagine the man finding time to run a country on the side of the countless other projects, inventions, and enterprises he managed.
So, what is Benjamin Franklin famous for? We could say that this sheer breadth of knowledge distinguishes him—i.e. that he’s a “polymath.” This term from the Greek means, “having learnt much” and was seemingly made for men like Franklin. Polymaths have knowledge in a wide range of subjects and fields, rather than specializing in just one. They are accomplished in multiple disciplines, seemingly thriving in the field of human enquiry itself, beyond the boundaries we draw between categories of study.
The world’s most famous polymaths blend academic fields or create new ones from scratch. They are the quintessential “Renaissance men” who can do a little (or a lot) of everything and inspire us to imagine what the limits of human understanding and learning really is. It seems like they possess superpowers considering their prowess in multiple realms of knowledge.
Other famous polymaths are also people you know by name and reputation— Leonardo da Vinci, Rene Descartes, Elon Musk, Plato, Isaac Newton, Galileo, Michelangelo, Archimedes, and so on. It may not be possible to reach the levels of these people, but the quest of polymathism is something that could very well boost your life to new heights. Rather than being an inherent quality, it can be learned and cultivated by anyone—including you. This book is about what it means to become a polymath, a Renaissance man, and a versatile autodidact (someone who “teaches themselves”).
In our complex modern world of increasingly narrow specialization, we can instead choose to develop ourselves holistically—becoming our best in the sciences, the arts, politics, academics, engineering, social affairs, literature, sports, and spiritual matters. Our goal as aspiring polymaths is therefore to become the kind of well-rounded and multiply accomplished human beings who can do all of these things with a degree of expertise. The name of the game is development, learning, and mastery—the particular fields we develop ourselves in are almost beside the point.