We think of Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone, but that's not how he saw his own career. Bell was an elocution teacher by profession. As the son of a deaf woman and, later, husband to another, his goal in life from adolescence was to teach the deaf to speak. And yet by the end of his life, despite his best efforts--or perhaps, more accurately, because of them--Bell had become the American Deaf community's most powerful enemy.
Booth’s biography of Bell has been in the works for 15 years; her meticulous research and rigor are evident on every page. Engagingly written, the book enlivens a life that has often appeared dry in other accounts. Booth’s descriptions of Bell’s passionate courtship of his student Mabel Hubbard, who belonged to a much higher social class, are as stirring as a romance novel, and her narrative of his work on the telephone reads like a thriller. One comes away feeling deeply connected not only to Bell, but also to Mabel and a host of subsidiary characters ... Booth is doubly outraged: at what Bell wanted to do and at the psychic cost of the method by which he proposed to do it. Her book is a partisan rallying cry fueled in part by her experience of having two deaf grandparents ... Everything Booth says in this eloquent biography is backed up persuasively, but her yearning to correct the record should be balanced against the uncorrected record that has obtained previously. Though she attempts to wave the flag of impartiality, she is deeply invested in indicting her subject ... Bell’s wish that everyone understand everyone else came at a terrible price, but it was the product of its time. Booth’s anger reflects a current trend of holding people from the past to standards of the present.
Booth vigorously revises the historical record ... Booth reveals a rich history of heights and depths in The Invention of Miracles, including the questionable patent process that secured Bell’s name in history, the evolution and empowerment of the Deaf community, and Bell’s endearing marriage, which survived his own misguided intentions.
Booth paints a textured portrait of a man driven not by an entrepreneurial desire to invent a product that changed the world but by a passion to improve the lives of deaf people. Booth interweaves these two themes into a revealing biography that will enlighten readers ... Much of Booth’s biography carefully details Bell’s personal life and his marriage, she does not spare a careful assessment of his theories and politics ... Booth has exhaustively researched Bell’s long life in preparation for her biography and provides many invaluable insights and information. However, reflecting the aesthetics of contemporary narrative nonfiction, the author repeatedly takes certain liberties in attributing psychological motivations to Bell like sayings, 'It must have been dawning on him' and 'there must have been that dread.' This is but a small price to pay for an informative and revealing biography.