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.
Bell’s telephone travails are only part of the complex picture Ms. Booth paints in her ambitious, revisionist book ... so scrupulously researched you feel like you’re walking alongside the inventor as he strides the Scottish moors or looking over his shoulder as he researches the qualities of different kinds of current in his Boston home ... At times, Booth’s style is highly poetic, even moving. At others, it’s polemic, and appropriately infuriating ... Katie Booth’s brave and absorbing book is the story of a contradictory genius whose inventiveness outstripped his compassion.
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.