How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans and the Educations That Made Them

How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans and the Educations That Made Them

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by Daniel Wolff
     
 

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How Lincoln Learned to Read tells the American story from a fresh and unique perspective: how do we learn what we need to know?
Beginning with Benjamin Franklin and ending with Elvis Presley, author Daniel Wolff creates a series of intimate, interlocking profiles of notable Americans that track the nations developing notion of what it means to get a "good

Overview

How Lincoln Learned to Read tells the American story from a fresh and unique perspective: how do we learn what we need to know?
Beginning with Benjamin Franklin and ending with Elvis Presley, author Daniel Wolff creates a series of intimate, interlocking profiles of notable Americans that track the nations developing notion of what it means to get a "good education." From the stubborn early feminism of Abigail Adams to the miracle of Helen Keller, from the savage childhood of Andrew Jackson to the academic ambitions of W.E.B. Du Bois, a single, fascinating narrative emerges. It connects the illiterate Sojourner Truth to the privileged Jack Kennedy, takes us from Paiute Indians scavenging on western deserts to the birth of Henry Fords assembly line. And as the book traces the education we value - both in and outside the classroom - it becomes a history of key American ideas.
In the end, How Lincoln Learned to Read delivers us to todays headlines. Standardized testing, achievement gaps, the very purpose of public education - all have their roots in this narrative. Whether youre a parent trying to make sure your child is prepared, a teacher trying to do the best possible job, or a student navigating the educational system, How Lincoln Learned to Read offers a challenge to consider what we need to know and how we learn it. Wide-ranging and meticulously researched, built mostly on primary sources, this is an American story that begins and ends with hope.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This extended essay, in the form of a dozen entertaining profiles of great Americans-an unexpected cross-section, from Ben Franklin to Elvis Presley-provides an unusual look at the varieties of educational experience that shaped these groundbreakers. Along the way, many of the prejudices and misunderstandings that are part of the American fabric are shown to be overcome by each through his or her mode of learning. Poet Wolff (4th of July, Asbury Park) shows how the studied yokel Ben Franklin created an American archetype, and how Helen Keller and her teacher Annie Sullivan would inspire Maria Montessori on the instruction of all children. Wolff wears his learning lightly, and there is a subtlety to his contrasting biographies. For example, the education of Lincoln, whose formal schooling ended at the age of 15, could not be further from the privileged world of JFK's; auto pioneer Henry Ford and environmental pioneer Rachel Carson, both Midwesterners, could not be more different. Above all, Wolff observes that in our national tradition "an American education is going to bear the marks of rebellion." (Mar.)

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School Library Journal

Adult/High School

Wolff allows that several factors are involved in achieving greatness, but his focus here is on the role of childhood education (roughly toddler to teen) in the success of 12 notable Americans, discussed chronologically from Benjamin Franklin to Elvis Presley. He examines the education, both in school and out, of Abigail Adams, Andrew Jackson, Sojourner Truth, Sarah Winnemucca, Henry Ford, W. E. B. Du Bois, Helen Keller, Rachel Carson, and John F. Kennedy. Employing a lively narrative style and impressive research, Wolff presents the interlocking stories that together form a brief history of what it means to be successful in this country. These individuals range from having no formal education to attending the best schools in the land, from having a reverence for book learning to having a reverence for tinkering, from facing enormous challenges to having specialized interests. But what they all hold in common is that they managed to learn what they needed to know, often against tremendous odds. All were consistently true to themselves and to their deepest interests. And from that starting point they pursued the particular education that best suited their needs. This provocative book is not only an important addition to the history of education in America, but also a valuable contribution to the history and understanding of the country's ideas and culture. It should appeal especially to those teens who wonder where their particular education might lead.-Robert Saunderson, formerly at Berkeley Public Library, CA

Kirkus Reviews
A riveting, original examination of education inside and outside the classroom. What makes this work particularly captivating is that music historian Wolff (4th of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land, 2005, etc.) doesn't focus primarily on the book learning acquired by a dozen Americans, from Benjamin Franklin to Elvis Presley. Rather, his interest is in how they learned-that is, the life experiences that helped transform them into the figures they became. Taught to read by his mother at home, Abraham Lincoln received little in the way of formal education. His unquenchable thirst for knowledge and constant search for new ideas led him to read widely on his own, notes Wolff, who quotes Lincoln declaring, "I remember how, when a mere child, I used to get irritated when anybody talked to me in a way that I could not understand." Automotive pioneer Henry Ford, on the other hand, had little patience for books ("they mess up my mind," he wrote) but loved to work with his hands, which in turn led to a lifelong love of engineering. Helen Keller excelled, the author convincingly argues, because she was allowed to create her own curriculum with teacher Annie Sullivan. John F. Kennedy, a poor student in prep school, learned how to be a leader by forming an on-campus club of rebels and iconoclasts. Wolff delves into the education of other prominent figures, including Andrew Jackson, W.E.B. Du Bois and Rachel Carson, but also looks at such lesser-known Americans as a slave named Belle and Sarah Winnemucca Hopkins, a Native American schoolteacher in the 19th century. Their stories attest that learning doesn't just happen in a schoolhouse, and life itself may well be the most effectiveteacher of the most important lessons. Well thought-out, well-argued and thoroughly engaging. Agent: Sandy Choron/March Tenth
From the Publisher

“Wolff excavates the origins of his subjects deftly...His essays remind us that greatness in America can bubble up just about anywhere, and that even the great have trouble understanding the ingredients of their own success.” —Wilson Quarterly

“This is a terrific book. It's compact (25 pages or so per individual) but rich and thought-provoking. It gave me new insights into great Americans I thought I knew pretty well, and it taught me much about those I'd barely heard of before. Broad in scope, peppered with detail, insightful, it could be the basis for a classroom or book club review of American history from our founding as a nation through the 20th century.” —Christian Science Monitor

“Daniel Wolff's fascinating tome, How Lincoln Learned to Read: Twelve Great Americans and the Educations That Made Them examines the training, formal or otherwise, of Lincoln and 11 other unique Americans in an effort to identify what makes for a "good education." From Lincoln's obsession with books and newspapers to Elvis Presley's fascination with movies and soundtracks, Wolff ties these and other personalities (W.E.B. DuBois, George Washington, Abigail Adams, Helen Keller, JFK, and more) together with common historical threads, discerning how each was able to surmount difficulties and make his or her mark. Enriched by historical details of the Civil War and world wars, the Great Depression, and the rise of unions, and backed by extensive primary sources, Wolff's essays provide enlightening glimpses into the often-serendipitous process of education. This makes for a fascinating read.” —Huffington Post

“A quirky collection of tales of the formative years of a dozen famous Americans... How Lincoln Learned to Read reinforces the notion that the nation's inherent rebellious streak has served it well. 'To believe your own thought,' as Emerson wrote in his famous essay 'Self-Reliance,' 'that is genius.' Poor, unconnected people such as Elvis, he writes, 'were supposed to harden into a category, to disappear.' That they sometimes don't - that they sometimes find hope - well, that's a story worth retelling.” —Boston Globe

“A riveting, original examination of education inside and outside the classroom.... [These] stories attest that learning doesn't just happen in a schoolhouse, and life itself may well be the most effective teacher of the most important lessons. Well thought-out, well-argued and thoroughly engaging.” —Kirkus, starred review

“This extended essay, in the form of a dozen entertaining profiles of great Americans--an unexpected cross-section, from Ben Franklin to Elvis Presley--provides an unusual look at the varieties of educational experience that shaped these groundbreakers.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Employing a lively narrative style and impressive research, Wolff presents... interlocking stories that together form a brief history of what it means to be successful in this country. These individuals range from having no formal education to attending the best schools in the land, from having a reverence for book learning to having a reverence for tinkering, from facing enormous challenges to having specialized interests. But what they all hold in common is that they managed to learn what they needed to know, often against tremendous odds. All were consistently true to themselves and to their deepest interests. And from that starting point they pursued the particular education that best suited their needs. This provocative book is not only an important addition to the history of education in America, but also a valuable contribution to the history and understanding of the country's ideas and culture.” —School Library Journal

“Eclectic author and journalist Wolff looks at the training, formal or otherwise, of 12 unique Americans in an effort to identify aspects of a 'good education.' From Abe Lincoln's obsession with books and newspapers to Elvis' fascination with movies and their soundtracks, Wolff ties these varied biographies together with common historical threads, discerning how each was able to surmount difficulties and make his or her mark... Enriched by historical details of the Civil War and world wars, the Great Depression, and the rise of unions, and backed by extensive primary sources, Wolff's essays provide enlightening glimpses into the often-serendipitous process of education.” —Booklist

“Though his formal education was scanty, the young George Washington was described by an admiring neighbor as a boy who would go to school all his life. In this remarkably original group portrait of similar strivers, Daniel Wolff redefines the phrase "education for life." His classrooms range from a printer's shop in colonial Boston to the Pentecostal church attended by Gladys Presley's boy Elvis. Looming above them all is the unschooled Lincoln, whose capacity for self-education will both shape and justify a brutal war for human possibility. How Lincoln Learned to Read might just as well be titled How Lincoln Learned to Lead.” —Richard Norton Smith, author of Patriarch

“What a readable, powerful account of what education, as well as schooling, has meant to some of life's most interesting people. Start anywhere; each of the dozen accounts captures the individual, his or her time and place, and the most critical thoughts about learning that apply to our current debates. This is a collection that everyone ought to read--including our school kids, and also every member of Congress--for the sake of trying to answer the same tough question for America's future: ‘How do we learn what we need to know?'” —Deborah Meier, author of In Schools We Trust

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608191222
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
07/01/2009
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
File size:
4 MB

Meet the Author

Daniel Wolff is the author of "Fourth of July, Asbury Park," which was picked as an Editors Choice in The New York Times Book Review and called a "wonderfully evocative history." He has written for publications from Vogue to Wooden Boat to Education Weekly. His other books include "You Send Me," collaborations with photographers Ernest Withers, Eric Meola, and Danny Lyon, and two volumes of poetry. He is currently producing a documentary project on New Orleans, Right to Return, with director Jonathan Demme.
Daniel Wolff is the author of How Lincoln Learned to Read, a Chicago Tribune Editors Choice pick; 4th of July, Asbury Park, a New York Times Book Review Editors Choice pick; You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, a national bestseller; and two volumes of poetry, among other books. His writing has appeared in publications ranging from Vogue to Wooden Boat to Education Weekly. He is the co-producer, with Jonathan Demme, of several documentary film projects on New Orleans.

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