Benjamin Franklin started writing his autobiography in 1771, which should give you a sense of how much he had accomplished even before the Revolution. Perhaps I disagree with Toynbee on this, but I think you are a product of your economic era, and I can’t help but read his Autobiography to find precedents for the tech and audience-driven era we are in.
You could place The Four Hour Workweek squarely in the tradition laid out by his Autobiography. Franklin wants to wow you with his tenacity and wit, while leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for you to follow in his path. There’s a reason why this technique is still in style.
The tactics are also shockingly similar to those used by strivers today. When he was 21, Franklin “form’d most of my ingenious Acquantance into a Club, for mutual improvement, which we call’d the Junto.” Before masterminds, there was the Junto, which had rules for how members could comment on each other’s analysis (mods!) and required members to produce an original piece of work to the group every three months. The members were successful craftspeople – the newly rich, dedicated self-taught mathematicians and astonomers.
Before Atomic Habits, Franklin spelled out tactics to build successful habits. He first sat down and determined the negative qualities to avoid in life, and concluded the 13 vices included Temperence (“Eat not to Dulness, Drink not to Elevation”), Silence (“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling Conversation”, and Order “Let all your Things have their Places. Let each Part of your Business have its Time.”Then, he determined which of those were most important to fix first, concluding it was Temperance (“as it tends to procure that Coolness & Clearness of Head, which is so necessary where Constance Vigilance was to be kept up”).
What he did next will get the data-driven life nerds excited. He made a 7×13 grid, going through the 13 vices each day of the week. He recorded any instances where he sinned while aiming to maintain Temperance. Once he had mastered Temperance, he moved on to the next vice: “so I should have, (I hoped) the encouraging Pleasure of seeing on my Pages the Progress I made in Virtue by cleaning successively my Lines of their Spots, till in the end by a Number fo Courses I should be happy in viewing a clean Book.”
But as disciplined as he was, he was flexible, and recognized that humans need some vices. After all, “a perfect character might be attended with the Inconvenience of being envied and hated, and that a benevolent Man should allow a few Faults in himself to keep his Friends in Countenance.”
There’s much more wisdom in there. Enjoy.