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“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 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
“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. 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.”—School Library Journal
“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)
“A riveting, original examination of education inside and outside the classroom. What makes this work particularly captivating is that music historian Wolff 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. Well thought-out, well-argued and thoroughly engaging.”—Kirkus (starred review)
“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
“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 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
“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
“How Lincoln Learned to Read is the fascinating, largely untold story of the early educations of some of America’s most compelling leaders. A wonderful storyteller, Daniel Wolff leads us down a path that ultimately brings us back to Henry Adams’s fundamental question: what part of education is useful and what is not? There has probably never been a point in our nation’s history when the answer to that question was more important.”—Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education