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How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  22,716 ratings  ·  2,299 reviews
Why do some children succeed while others fail?

The story we usually tell about childhood and success is the one about intelligence: Success comes to those who score highest on tests, from preschool admissions to SATs.

But in "How Children Succeed," Paul Tough argues for a very different understanding of what makes a successful child. Drawing on groundbreaking research in ne
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 4th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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 ·  22,716 ratings  ·  2,299 reviews

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May 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Like Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, this book serves primarily as a starting point for discussion. How do children succeed? Paul Tough and co. aren't really sure. They are also unsure of what defines success in the first place. Tough follows several subjects through the course of the book, but the main objective of the children that he discusses is always college. Occasionally he'll veer off-topic - why is it that Ivy League graduates all go into finance? - but quickly loops back to ...more
Jan 17, 2013 rated it liked it
This book makes an unbalanced argument in two ways. First, it claims that if schools could just help students develop non-cognitive skills such as grit, courage, kindness, that would have more impact on eventual success than cognitive skills. In truth it's both/and. You need knowledge AND habits of mind. Paul Tough alludes to this with a couple of stories of students who have learned to focus but don't have the background knowledge to score well on tests, yet keeps coming back to grit as the sol ...more
Aaron Thibeault
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
*A full executive summary of this book is available here:

When it comes to a child’s future success, the prevailing view recently has been that it depends, first and foremost, on mental skills like verbal ability, mathematical ability, and the ability to detect patterns–all of the skills, in short, that lead to a hefty IQ. However, recent evidence from a host of academic fields—from psychology, to economics, to education, to neuroscience–has revealed that
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
As a teacher I have often wanted to put a sign in my classroom, "Many a student has failed because you can't send mom and dad to the principal's office." We cannot fix what's wrong with U.S. educational system until we fix what's wrong with families, or the lack of family. Tough finally addresses in the last chapter the elephant in the room, which educators and politicans acknowledge behind close doors that the family a child is born into will predict how well a child will succeed in school and ...more
Feb 23, 2013 rated it liked it
There's a certain kind of book that journalists like to write that I used to like, because I found it very convincing. It's the kind of book that reads something like this: "We all used to think that XXX. But then Professor AAA of the University of BBB did a study and it turns out that it's YYY."

I used to like this because when you're young, you think the world is screwed up, and it's refreshing to find somebody that purports to demonstrate that your instincts are right and up is actually down a
Oct 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
As a teacher, I really appreciated a lot of the issues brought to light by this book. When he quotes the principal at an extremely difficult school saying that its the first time she has considered that the student's environment outside of school has a major effect on performance in school, it seems unbelievable. However, this shows you how much brainwashing occurs throughout education where the people running schools and teaching in them are told that none of that matters and all that matters i ...more
Feb 16, 2013 rated it it was ok
This guy hangs out at some inner-city schools and tells us touching stories about programs that "seem" [his word] to help rescue the underprivileged, undereducated kids who are already failing. We don't need "seem to work." From a book with a title like "How Children Succeed" we should learn about what is proven effective.

He doesn't talk at all about the experience of the schools in Raleigh, North Carolina, which as far as I know is the one example of an entire metropolitan area with children s
Nov 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
This was the book du jour in education circles a couple of months ago--everyone reading it, nitpicking Tough's conclusions and assumptions. I didn't expect to like it, particularly--in fact, I stopped reading after the chess section--but finally finished it. The end of the book is the best part, where Tough pulls together the disparate threads of the research he's studied, on character and why it matters so much, and admits--oh yeah, we're totally headed in the wrong direction, policy-wise.

Eric Lin
May 15, 2013 rated it liked it
Pretty interesting pseudo-science. It could have been one extremely long chapter of a Malcolm Gladwell book (maybe if the title had been one word). The main premise of the book is that intelligence isn't nearly as effective a predictor of success (usually determined by completion of a college degree) as a measurement of a child's character.

Paul Tough clearly believes the thesis of his book, but the success stories in his case studies always seem to come up short of true success. Students get int
Nicolas A.
Mar 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: teachers, parents, young adults, politicians, education policy-makers
Recommended to Nicolas by: Colorado Public Radio "This American Life"
Some books amaze you with breath-taking aesthetic appeal, others with innovative and unexpected narrative elements, and then there are books that are amazing because the story they tell changes the way you see and understand the world.

What this book presents is an alternative to the cognitive hypothesis. This is a long-standing theory which posits that success (defined in this book as a happy, meaningful, and fulfilling life) is determined by one's cognitive abilities. What Tough's book suggest
Maurine Tritch
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was ok
I requested this book expecting dialog about what drives some children to go out into the world and try without fear to achieve their goals, and some to drop out of college--if they make it that far--and drift...and/or take up permanent residence in their parents' basement. My instinct is that the accepted practices of conscientious parenting today is not the best way to turn out ambitious, autonomous adults, but what do I know? So I was hoping the book would help answer that supposition with fa ...more
Nov 20, 2012 rated it liked it
I was planning to rate this book 4 1/2 or 5 stars until reading the last chapter. The meat of the book is great in that it identifies some great markers of success for children. I was anxious to try some ideas spawned from the book, such as attempting to limit my child's exposure to negative stressors, and encouraging them to learn how to deal with failures. Then, suddenly, after only 2 previous quick jabs at conservative thinking, the author vomits throughout the last chapter this contradictory ...more
Dec 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle, non-fiction
The fact that I found myself tearing up while reading about a young student getting reprimanded for chewing gum can be attributed to the excellent writing in this book. When I read nonfiction I usually like to take it in small doses while I simultaneously read a well spun story. This was not the case with this interesting and inspiring work. I could not put it down.

I feel passionate about education and this book sure had me thinking about the way we are teaching our kids from every socioeconomic
Chris Fazio
Jun 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Be honest for a minute. How much do you actually remember from high school? What skills are still intact that help you on a daily basis? Chances are, the biggest lessons you took away are how to organize your time, manage stress, and overcome adversity. In How Children Succeed, Paul Tough argues that these "non-cognitive" skills are far and away the most important in determining whether someone will make it in college and beyond.

The beauty of Tough's prose is that while it's couched in neuroscie
Nov 26, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
This book lacks focus. It starts out by promoting a growth mindset to education, an approach that focuses on developing characteristics such as grit and resilience. Then the author introduces several special programs. These programs range from interventions in inner city schools to posh private academies. As an educator, this raised a yellow flag. Special programs is where trendy ideas go to shine for a brief moment and then die when people lose interest in those ideas. For the growth mindset to ...more
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
As someone possibly striving to become a teacher, I appreciated How Children Succeed. Paul Tough variegates his writing style enough to keep the book entertaining without losing track of the message he puts forth - one way he does this is by including various anecdotes. He does not just share stories about kids who have suffered in the current education system, but he reveals parts of his own journey, such as when he dropped out of Columbia University.

Tough connects these tales to psychology too
Oct 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
As an undergraduate student, I was assigned Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America for a class and it was one of the books that affirmed my decision to pursue education as a career. Tough's second book reaffirmed my belief in the value and potential of public education.

Expanding on a New York Times Magazine article, Paul Tough explores character education and various schools (no pun intended) of thought about education and society. From decades of research across
Oct 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: brain, non-fiction, work
Investigating successful kids and programs at low-income schools and high-achieving prep schools, as well as interviewing psychologists and neuroscientists, Tough challenges some conventional wisdom on causes of failure (poverty, teacher quality) and contends that nurturing character in children and young adults is the key to success. He argues that the gap between poorer and wealthier kids’ success levels is caused not mostly through lack of cognitive stimulation, but through a chaotic environm ...more
Sep 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
After loving Paul Tough’s first book, Whatever It Takes, I was very excited to learn that he had written a new book. In How Children Succeed, Tough argues that what matters most for kids is not intelligence but character. He masterfully weaves concise explanations of complex academic research with engaging stories of inspiring young people in many different situations and the adults who support them. He explains how early adversity causes stress which damages young children’s developing brains, ...more
Dec 20, 2012 rated it liked it
I really liked learning about the research presented in this book, but I can't say I enjoyed reading the book itself. It presents a journalist's approach to researching the question; what makes some kids "succeed" and others "fail." I put these things in quotes because I question the definition of success presented here. Success is defined as college completion, long lasting marriages, income level and so forth. The author never questions whether these outcomes increased a person's happiness, cr ...more
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent book that discusses the power of character/grit over IQ in the long-term success of a child. It discusses how educators focus on the results of standardized tests alone and makes the point that IQ is not the only thing that determines the potential of a child. There are a lot of smart, privileged kids, but it's the kids with grit and determination who often have the most success according to the many studies. It discusses how IQ is innate, but character malleable, therefore, we as pare ...more
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
(2.5 stars)

This book cited lots of studies and anecdotal examples of exceptional kids who conquered adversity to take the step toward success in life, which is great and all, but I thought there was a lot of hand-waving going on. Nothing really revolutionary was introduced and most of it was a rehash of things I've read from various articles over the year.

I guess it's just a no-brainer to me that to succeed in life, you don't have to just be smart and have an IQ, but you have to have some points
Dec 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Hate the title (and think it's odd that he used it, considering how frequently he pointed out in the book that the word "character" is misinterpreted and used by conservatives to mean morals).

But I thought the book was really interesting and am leaning hard on everyone in my school distirct to read it. My personal motive in doing so, is to broaden our academic conversations beyond cognitive skills kids can/should aquire and talk about the non-cognitive skills they need and what is impeeding them
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
After devouring “Brain Rules for Baby” like a hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookie, I spied the title “How Children Succeed” and scarfed up Paul Tough’s latest journalistic endeavor; it was like expecting a chips ahoy and sinking my teeth into a kettle chip.

You see, “How Children Succeed” is not a parenting book. Tough offers only a few pieces of broad strokes guidance. He states: “[S]cientists have demonstrated that the most reliable way to produce an adult who is brave and curious and kin
Mar 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
The subtitle of the book is a bit misleading. (I should even say the title was misleading as it deals more with adolescents than with children.) I had (foolishly) hoped for a book that more clearly catalogued true traits the girder success and how they can be instilled in children. While it does spend much of its time looking at the "character" traits that help children succeed, it is broader focused than just character development, with many portions dwelling on evaluation of a variety of educa ...more
Oct 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
Author, Paul Tough, examines through interviews, several studies, and classroom observations, what exactly it takes for children to succeed, not only in school, but in college and beyond into adulthood. What it comes down to is not high IQ or an exceptional education (although neither hurts), but more importantly, strength of character, a supportive family background, and the chance to have failures that can be overcome.
Interesting premise, and one I can get behind, although I had the distinct f
H Wesselius
Dec 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Tough tells us what most of us have known and/or suspected for a long time -- brains and grades are not the only thing. Success comes from determination, desire, curiosity, and patience. And for the most part this is taught at home. Thus, its not only poverty which places children behind the starting line but also the character deficits often linked to poverty.

Tough outlines numerous, programs and ideas to help alleviate those children who fell behind and at times the reader gets lost in the an
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jan 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: learning, nonfiction
Why are we always so quick to reject the wisdom of older people as outdated? Don't we always come back around and take another look and find they were right after all?

Paul Tough takes a look at new research on children who grow up to find success in their adult lives and shares with us the New Version of an Old Truth: hard work means a lot.

My grandfather is quietly nodding his head.
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
That was a good overview of some of the issues facing educators and child poverty workers. In particular, I appreciated that the book gave me a considerable list of further books to check out. The stories of the schools and students were really moving.

And apparently it's time to learn some chess so I can teach it to the girls.
Jul 09, 2017 rated it liked it
"The part of the brain most affected by early stress is the prefrontal cortex, which is critical in self-regulatory activities of all kinds, both emotional and cognitive. As a result, children who grow up in stressful environments generally find it harder to concentrate, harder to sit still, harder to rebound from disappointments, and harder to follow directions. And that has a direct effect on their performance in school. When you're overwhelmed by uncontrollable impulses ad distracted by negat ...more
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Paul Tough is the author, most recently, of The Inequality Machine. His three previous books include How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, which was translated into 27 languages and spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover and paperback best-seller lists. Paul is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine; his writing has also appeared in ...more

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