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Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller
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Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  242 ratings  ·  52 reviews
After many years, historian and Helen Keller expert Kim Nielsen realized that she, along with other historians and biographers, had failed Anne Sullivan Macy. While Macy is remembered primarily as Helen Keller's teacher and mythologized as a straightforward educational superhero, the real story of this brilliant, complex, and misunderstood woman, who described herself as a ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published May 1st 2009 by Beacon Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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Average rating 3.80  · 
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Dec 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: starred
Maybe it seems counter-intuitive to write a solo biography of Anne Sullivan Macy -- who would have heard of her if not for Helen Keller, right? Even for someone who's as nutzoid for Annie as I am, it's odd at first to read a biography in which Helen Keller gets so obviously sidelined. However, much as I value Joseph Lash's dual biography, Helen and Teacher, and as much as the two women's lives were intertwined, reading Nielsen's solo examination of Annie reveals just how much of a distraction ke ...more
Apr 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This biography is a much-needed examination of the complex Annie Sullivan Macy, whom Nielson asserts, correctly, deserves more from us than the usual caricature of the Super Educator who miraculously taught Helen Keller language. In many of the books I've read on Keller, the figure of Sullivan is one-dimensional, her life a mere derivative of Keller's. I really enjoyed this examination of a complex, imperfect woman who lived an extraordinary life. I especially appreciated some of the material on ...more
Sep 19, 2009 rated it liked it
This is an interesting book because Anne Sullivan Macy is a remarkable woman although I am not a huge fan of the author. Statements like this are not uncommon, "Just as some gays and lesbians have passed as straight, she would pass as sighted--as the nondisabled companion and aide of Helen Keller." This was a little too opinionated for me in a book that is biographical. Just state the facts. I didn't know much about either woman so I feel like I learned a little bit. My biggest complaint is that ...more
Yun Yi
Feb 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
I would give this book 5 star rate if the writing style is more "readers friendly" (at least to me). I still enjoyed this book tremendously mostly because of the unbelievably interesting life experience of Sullivan. For me, she was equally fascinating as Helen Keller. This book confirms a fact to me, that reality is more fascinating than fiction. The pair of heroines truly is unparalleled phenomenon of history.

Anne Sullivan, who later became Anne Sullivan Macy, had a life that was extreme undu
Aug 06, 2009 rated it liked it
I knew practically nothing about Annie Sullivan Macy before I read this book, and I found it very informative and interesting. She was a complex person with a complex life-story. The first third of the book was a fantastic page-turner. After that is slowed down significantly became a little academic. Overall it is an amazing story of tenacity, friendship, and deep wounds. I feel like the author did a good job with what she had, but there were a bunch of unanswered questions because the material ...more
Jun 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
It's hard to separate Anne Sullivan from Helen Keller, but author Kim Nielsen does certainly try.

Keller is kept on the periphery as much as possible in this biography, which pushes Annie's pedagogical accomplishments and tries to delve into her psychology. That Sullivan was argumentative and headstrong was probably what kept her alive and sane during her childhood years in the almhouse, and what pushed her to push young Helen Keller into communication. It also made her a difficult woman in many
Meg Marie
Mar 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An extraordinary look at the woman behind Helen Keller. I must admit, I'd never though much about Annie Sullivan and what her life must have been like, and so this book was truly a revelation. The author does a great job painting a sympathetic portrait of an incredibly complex woman, drawing from letters and historical records. When the information doesn't exist, Nielsen gives her own opinions in a way that doesn't seem pendantic. Much enjoyed.
Marlene Heller
Mar 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Most books about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan focus on Helen and the miracle of her learning to communicate. This book is completely focused on Anne Sullivan Macy, from her early life in an impoverished Irish family, discarded, along with her younger brother, Jimmie, by her father after the death of her mother from TB. How she managed to pull herself together, surviving Jimmie's death, becoming a strong and yet dependent woman, are just the beginning of this story. During her life, she and He ...more
Elke Vekeman
Apr 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
I have seen the movie "The miracle worker" a few times and I always cry when Helen finally understands that the letters that are formed in her hands, mean something.

So when I saw the title of this book in my Bookbub mail, I knew I wanted to know more about the teacher who opened up a new world for Helen.
And I realised I knew almost absolutely nothing about her, than what they show in the movie.

I got off to a slow start, but when I came to the chapter where Annie Sullivan starts working with H
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed reading this book about Annie Sullivan and her life spent with Helen Keller. They were more than teacher-student, their life together spanned over fifty years. The play and movie, The Miracler Worker, only took in the few years when Helen was just a very young child. A wonderful play and movie, saw the movie many times, but this book covers their whole lives together in depth. You find out that Annie Sullivan's early life was very difficult and so sad, and even her eye sight was very p ...more
Josephine Ensign
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is a fascinating story about the life and work of Anne Sullivan Macy, but I found the author's writing style clunky and off-putting. To me it is almost a good lesson in how not to write a biography.
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
A nice introduction about Ms Ann Sullivan, a complex and accomplished girl, woman, who's the teacher, friend and companion of the widely-admired and loved Helen Keller.
Becky Petersen
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This woman was just as remarkable as Helen Keller! Fascinating biography.
Larry Marshall
I only give it 3 stars because though there is some good biographical information included, the writing and randomness of the story line make it hard to dig out the good stuff.

Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Very informative biography of Annie Sullivan and her Life with Helen Keller. Got a bit tedious in the last ⅛ or so.
Jun 01, 2020 rated it liked it
3.5 stars.
May 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I had always wondered what happened to the two as adults. This tells the story well. Thank you for your research.
Jan 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
In this engaging and well-written book, Nielsen puts together the truly remarkable story of Anne Sullivan, despite the difficulty in finding certain key materials. It was a timely reading for me as the 2017 Women's March was taking place in support of the lives of women and disadvantaged people. With all the limited resources she had, Anne Sullivan fiercely fought against powerful narcissists of her days and left a great legacy. Even today, though, we are shocked by the horrible reality in front ...more
Jun 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Anne's family, along with 1.8 million Irish arrive in North America, travel from Ireland (Irish famine 1846-1855; tuberculosis) for a better life and ends up residing in Feeding Hills, MA. During this time, the marriage rate has decreased (85.5% of female immigrants ages 15 to 35 years were single). Her parents Thomas and Alice had three children -- Anne (1866), Ellen (1867), and James (1869). Between 1870-72 Ellen died and infant son John was born dead. In 1873 her mother Alice gave birth to Ma ...more
Jul 19, 2009 rated it liked it
I actually firs found out about this book because my 84-year-old Nanna brought it to the pool with her a few weeks ago and was telling me about it. Then it was finally added to Bookshare and I could read it for myself. Everyone knows the story of Helen Keller, but few are particularly familiar with the life story of her teacher and lifelong friend and companion, Annie Sullivan. This book provides insight into Sullivan's ackground, from her traumatic childhood to her years at Perkins School for t ...more
it's a great book, though written like a lawnmower manual. Anne is the quintessential teacher -- perhaps the greatest teacher of the 20th century. (Although her breakthrough took place in the 19th century.) Her greatest love, when all was said and done, was Puerto Rico. She ran away from Helen, and hied herself there, during one of her numerous bouts of depression and illness. She hated imperialism, particularly the imperialism that scarred Puerto Rico. She gave a great speech in 1932 honoring G ...more
Nov 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I didn't always enjoy the very detailed writing style but I was really fascinated by the life of Anne Sullivan. I learned that she was sent to an almshouse at ten years old by her father after her mother died. She lived a difficult life there until she was 14 when she managed to be sent to a school for the blind because she was half blind herself due to trachoma. When Helen Keller's success was recognized early on Anne struggled to get any credit and later, when she did, she felt unworthy due to ...more
Sep 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
My admiration for Helen Keller was always in reference to her disability/genius, and thought without Helen Keller, Anne was her translator/friend. I now realize how backward I had it all! Without Anne Sullivan, who knows if Helen would have achieved her greatness or become a novelty act. From this book I realized the pain, struggles, fears... that Anne suffered personally, while finding ways to ensure Helen achieve her full potential. Their mutual dependency on each other was incredible and like ...more
Jun 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Maybe not quite 5*'s but definitely more than 4!

While Helen Keller was a remarkable woman it has always been Annie who held my fascination ... always. One tragedy piled on top of the next until you have to wonder how that girl managed to utter the words that would change her life. "I want to go to school!" Fire in the belly, that girl had! The kind that burns with red hot intensity & won't go out until you feed it SOMETHING!
Who would Helen have been without teacher? A little girl lost inside her
Oct 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
This book is very detailed, well-researched and full of info! I found the beginning part of the story extremely interesting. Not only Anne, but her whole background and family histor,y was introduced in a rich historical context. It was particularly amazing to learn the horrid conditions of the poor house she spent many formative years of her life in, and how she remade herself as she strove to rise above her past by gaining an education. But I had a hard time focusing on the second half of the ...more
Feb 24, 2010 rated it liked it
It was okay. I definitely learned about Macy, however, the book often would tend to focus toward Helen Keller. And a lot of Macy's actions didn't make sense-I dont know if it was because there is not a lot about Macy or because the author didn't research Macy enough. I'm glad I read it, but probably won't reread it.
Feb 12, 2010 rated it liked it
I feel that the Miracle Worker is an okey book. I'd rather be reading a different book. At first i liked it but i feel its to predictable. Helen is going to learn how to read and right its just how, made me winder but know i know its the same teaching style as Joe from Super Nanny uses.
Heart niker
May 19, 2011 rated it it was ok
okay,this is the book that we gotta to read in class and i think helen keller is crazy when she was a kid but it's a boring book to read for me, because i kinda don't like reading plays and stuff so yeah.
Sep 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
I learned a lot, but as usual with nonfiction, I was not spellbound or impressed with the author's writing style. It was refreshing, though, to hear the tale from Anne Sullivan Macy's point of view instead of Helen Keller's.
this book and movie was so good i cried toward the end because its so sad but also funny
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Ever since I was a kid exploring my community's old Carnegie library, I had loved biography! Now I'm professor of history and women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Studying history means I get to read biography and consider it work. My most recent book is Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller (Bea ...more

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