Monday, July 6, 2009

Book Review - How Lincoln Learned to Read

How Lincoln Learned to Read: twelve great Americans and the education that made them by Daniel Wolff

“‘I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way I could not understand.’ … He’d worked through whatever books he could lay his hands on, copying down lines that interested or confused him. Then, his stepmother recalled, he’d test them out loud, ‘always bringing them to me and reading them. He would ask my opinion of what he read, and often explain things to me in his plain and simple language.’ Later, he’d tell a biographer, ‘I catch the idea by two senses, for when I read aloud, I hear what is read and I see it … and I remember it better.’ … How Lincoln learned to read at this level was also at home; slowly, out loud, often before an audience.”

Anyone who loves to read will love this book, will savor it. Not only does Daniel Wolff explain how each of twelve famous Americans learned to read, and learned to use what was read, but he fills in the social, political, psycho-cultural background for each subject to provide an incidental overview history of education and self-education in America from its colonial beginnings to the twentieth century. His selections of historical subjects reflect a wide expanse of class and culture and every segment is a delight to read. From the first chapter, about young Ben Franklin, who was a rebel from his first bored years in rote classrooms, the reader re-experiences his own discoveries that there are more things to enjoy reading than just stuffy recitation material.

The twelve fascinating subjects are Benjamin Franklin, Abigail Adams, Andrew Jackson, Sojourner Truth, Abraham Lincoln, Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, Henry Ford, W. E. B. Du Bois, Helen Keller, Rachel Carson, Jack Kennedy, and Elvis Presley. Though most have full biographies available here at this library and at others, Daniel Wolff’s focus on the youthful years of learning brings new perspectives on what books and reading materials found in the home and at nearby libraries means to the development of the American character.

One of the ultimate Book Talk books, indeed. I’m sorry to have to return it so you can read it, too. This was my first entry in the adult Summer Reading Program.

1 comment:

D Wolff said...

Hey, this makes an author very happy!


Daniel Wolff

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