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

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  169 ratings  ·  53 reviews
“This is a terrific book…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 examines the early lives and educations of twelve notable Americans, from Benjamin Franklin to Elvis Presley—the lessons they...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 16th 2010 by Bloomsbury USA (first published March 17th 2009)
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This is really about a dozen people & how they were educated, only one being Lincoln. Wolff does a great job of showing us not only the schooling, but the environment & circumstance of each person's life & how that constituted their education. There are a lot of solid historical facts & they're arranged to show how these people developed into what they would be & why, not necessarily in chronological order. That made sections jump around a bit too much at times, but was worth...more
How Lincoln Learned to Read is a book about the education of twelve famous Americans. However, Wolff’s idea of education is broader then teachers and schoolrooms. He gives examples of a broad category of how people are educated through their own initiative, interests, and work. While interesting and well written, I would have to ask, so what? There is no real purpose to this book. Unless you want to guess at its purpose. It seems that Wolff’s thesis is that education happen in more places then t...more
Sandy Sopko
One of my favorite CSU classes was an American Lit class about the American Dream, and Daniel Wolff's insights in this terrific piece of nonfiction about how twelve great Americans were educated truly tie neatly with those key American ideas which support it. Great divergent thinking throughout! My husband picked up the book and read several chapters covering the persons he found most interesting (JFK, for instance), but I read it in entirety. In offering a meticulous history of each person's ed...more
Don't let the title lead you to think that this is just about Abe Lincoln's education (which I did). Proceed to the subtitle: "Twelve Great Americans and the Educations That Made Them". Flip to the "Contents" page and scan the list of "greats"... Ben, Nabby, Andy, Belle, Abe, Thocmetony, Henry, Willie, Helen, Rachel, Jack, and Elvis. How many do you recognize?

This fascinating list offers a glimpse of the genius of this very readable survey of the history of America through it's many twists and t...more
INTERESTING! This book shouldn't have been called How Lincoln Learned to Read, though, because many of the tales inside of this book are MUCH more interesting than his. Found this book at my library's "autodidactical" section and was not disappointed. I took notes extensively in some parts. The author is very well researched and I was absolutely delighted at how much care he took to use original quotes from their original sources. Although his casual use of their "nicknames" at first annoyed me,...more
(disclaimer, I won this book on Goodreads) (copied synopsis w/my review following) 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 o...more
This is a great collection of mini-biographies of an eclectic assortment of "Americans" viewed through the lens of their individual educations and how it affected their lives.

12 people are covered here and though I would say they range from the well known to the lesser known, it is the emphasis on their educations that brings to light little known facts about the well known and newly illuminates the lesser known.

I most enjoyed reading about people I had never really read anything about before ("...more
I read this book about two years ago. It tells about the education of "twelve great Americans". I really enjoyed reading some of the stories, especially about Abe Lincoln, and others I didn't enjoy as much. In fact, I found it today with a bookmark in it and remembered I'd put it away after starting the Elvis chapter several times. I decided to give myself permission to skip that chapter, since I wasn't enjoying it as much, and finish the book. I was surprised to find, since there were still a l...more
I really enjoyed How Lincoln Learned to Read. The book is a history of 12 Americans, or soon-to-be Americans, and the manner in which they gained the knowledge and skills that would become necessary for them to complete the role they would fulfill in their adult lives. Perhaps what is most fascinating to me is the variety of methods ... from Lincoln's general unschooling, to Franklin's start in Boston Latin, to Elvis' progressive education, to Sojourner Truth's total lack of formal education but...more
An interesting and thought-provoking book. Wolff presents the education of influential Americans from ages 5-18. From Ben Franklin to Elvis Presley, Wolff includes men and women, slave and free, Native American, the elite and the invisible. He shows us how they learned what the needed to know both in the classroom and out of it. We see the evolution of the US education system and the changes in the country. This would make a wonderful companion read for an American History course. We see revolut...more
This book took me quite a bit longer than I would have expected, and for the longest time I couldn't put my finger on why I just wasn't enjoying it as much as expected. Upon first reading the description of this book, I assumed it would be a study in education by means of 12 important figures(without odd childhood nicknames to "keep me guessing?
" I might add also!). Instead, what we have are tiny biographies of the 12 individuals that are oddly specific in some cases and quite vague in other's.

This book asks the question "How do we learn what we need to know?" And it tells us how various famous Americans learned what they needed to know (what they "needed to know" often seeming to be defined by the author as what they actually learned, and presuming that this was what they therefore most needed). Although I admittedly only made it part-way through this book--I found it a bit too dry--neither the chapters I read nor the short epilogue did much for me in the way of offering anything but...more
The first chapter, on Ben Franklin, is one of the most engaging mini-bios I've ever read.

Then it all goes downhill from there. I stopped reading mid-way through the Abe Lincoln chapter, and never convinced myself to pick it back up.My main frustration with that story was that I didn't know that the former president's grandfather had the same name, and the author spoke about them both.

This book is a scattered and snarky report on a dozen different "great Americans", most of whom many already have...more
Matt Erickson
I hope to go back to this book again through the years. The book is well researched. Property is also discussed, both intellectual and physical property, to say that power is dressed-down in it's relation to knowledge, (a la Michael Foucault). I think people should always be a student, someone's always older, and then there's experience. Life isn't just a project and mentorship never dies.
Marissa Morrison
The title is misleading. In one offhand sentence, we learn that Lincoln learned to read at a young age, at home with his mom (which is true for most of the notable people profiled in this book). What really matters is that Lincoln loved reading so much that he did a great deal of it, for the most part educating himself, while avoiding the toils of farm work as much as his rural childhood allowed.

Each of the men and women here figured out where their passions lay and then pursued them.

This book...more
Some of the chapters in this book were really interesting, particularly when they touched on the backgrounds of people I am not as familiar with. On the whole it sparked my interest to read more about certain people and it caused me to think about links and ideas about reforming education processes. However, I was bothered by the fact that while there were notes in the back, there were no footnotes to link to them in the main writing. I know it is written as popular history, but I think that's a...more
Josh Meares
I keep reading this book every time I see it at the library. The writing is so-so, and a some of the material has pretty thin justifications. But it is fascinating to see how some of these great leaders educated themselves. It is also truly enlightening to see how they played off their education in order to appeal to the rank-and-file of Americans. I see dim echoes of Abraham Lincoln's off-color jokes and backwoods country boy appeal in George W. Bush's accent and attitude. That seems disingenuo...more
Interesting study of the profiles of well known public figures and how they learned. I liked the aspect that what made the people successful was not necessarily formal education but many life experiences. This book is not a thriller nor a fast read but a thought provoking study of educational influences.
Feb 14, 2012 Eric rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: educators of people from bygone eras
Shelves: history, information
There's nothing wrong with this book. Wolff accomplishes roughly what he set out to accomplish. Unfortunately, I happen to find the main theme, a biographical history of early American education, rather boring.

I found myself craving more of the interesting anecdotes from the early lives of famous Americans, and less of the education part. Just when the story took the turn to the interesting stuff for each of the canvassed figures, he deemed their educations complete and moved on to the next pers...more
A casual tone and well researched chapters lead readers through the education of some of America's famous and not so famous faces of history. I was interested to read it, but did't expect it to be as engrossing as it was. My only annoyance was that although there are extensive citations, the reader must guess when they pop up in the text. Personally, I would have preferred footnotes, but I understand why the editors' treatment of the citations to make the book more approachable. A solid popular...more
I only read the first three chapters of this book. The concept of the book, the education of various Americans in many time periods, seemed fascinating to me. I was very disappointed, however, by the dry writing style. Having recently read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the first chapter of Wolff's book read like an abridgment of Franklin's story, with all of the wit carefully removed. I wanted to love this book, but it couldn't be any less interesting.
Well, more skimmed than read. This book could be subtitled "How the Very Poor Became Rich and Famous". I might have liked it better if Wolff hadn't started every story at least two, more often three, generations back from the person being highlighted.

I read all of Ben Franklin, most of Abigail Adams, Sojourner Truth and Elvis Presley. Skimmed the others or skipped them entirely.

Wasn't may favorite but might catch the attention of someone else.
I made it through about 2/3 of the book before laying it aside. Each chapter featured a different character from American history and explored his/her education. The characters are diverse: from Abigail Adams to Elvis Presley. The idea is solid; education looks different according to the goals and aspirations of each individual and each generation. However, I found the writing to be boring. I love history but this is a book that does not light any fires.
What an entertaining book. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys learning a little something in history, especially American history. The chapters, rather than giving an in depth look at the entire life of the famous American, focuses specifically on how that individual got "an education." Told in chronological order, it makes an interesting look into the unfolding of "formal" education, but without any editorializing or opinion giving.
Irina Paley
I had very high expectations for the book - the premise is clever and appealing. Still, I found it to be somewhat shallow. It reads like an expanded NY Times Magazine article rather than a serious piece of contemporary analysis. I would have enjoyed more thorough conclusions, and links between the anecdotal and the theoretical. In that regard, the book did not deliver.
Pretty good background on US figures in the 1700's and 1800's and their education. Gets tedious towards the end when examining JFK, etc, and presenting just a timeline of their early lives, seemed to me like the author was in a hurry to finish up. The initial cameos, on Sojourner Truth, Hellen Keller, Princess Winnemucca, Andrew Jackson, etc, are wonderful.
While there was a lot of interesting information in this book, I really had to plod my way through in places. I considered the stories about Ben Franklin and Elvis Presley to be the most interesting and eye-opening. Many of these great Americans experienced poverty as young people, so it is a tribute to them to have accomplished so much.
A good read for anyone interested in education. It is setup as a timeline, and focuses on a select group of famous Americans, on how they educated themselves; but also on how the educational system was intended to be set up, and making a distinction between learning for the sake of learning, and learning for more practical purposes.
Robin Vig
Good read about education. In the end, it is all up to the student. The teacher is really there simply to guide.
i found a few of these entries quite entertaining. the others... not so much. i can't help but think that Franklin was a jerk. i don't really wanna feel that way about one of America's founders.

i read this as part of a history class. it is worth reading, especially if education is an interest of yours.
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Grammy-nominated author Daniel Wolff's latest book is "The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back." His previous books include "How Lincoln Learned to Read,""4th of July/Asbury Park" and "You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke.""
More about Daniel Wolff...
4th of July, Asbury Park: A History of the Promised Land The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back Negro League Baseball Work Sonnets You Send Me: The Life And Times Of Sam Cooke

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