Thursday, November 15, 2007

Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell by Charlotte Gray

Impeccably researched, and written with Charlotte Gray’s unerring eye for personal and historical detail, Reluctant Genius tells the story of a man very different from his public image. Most of us think of Alexander Graham Bell as a white-bearded sage, but the young A lec Bell was a passionate and wild-eyed genius, a man given to fits of brilliance and melancholy. His technologies for photophones, tetrahedrals, flying machines and hydrodomes laid the groundwork for future achievement. And he adored his wife, Mabel, a beautiful, deaf young woman from a blueblood Boston family.

Gray goes where no other writer has gone, delving deeply into Bell’s personality and into his intense relationship with Mabel, whose background and temperament were a startling contrast to his own. Reluctant Genius takes us on an intimate journey into the golden age of invention and the vibrant life of a man whose work shaped our world.

This is my first time reading Charlotte Gray, one of Canada's predominant biography authors. Alexander Graham Bell has always been an author that has interested me. I remember learning about him as long ago as elementary school, and he has always been one of those people that I wanted to read more about. Charlotte Gray has also been one of those authors that I have heard good things but never had a chance to read before. Now that I have read this book by her, I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Alexander Graham Bell was always an interesting inventor. He invented the telephone, which I believe we all know. Once he invented the phone, though, he got bored and wanted to work on something else, so he did not finalize any of his plans. He had a conversation with his partner, fiddled with it a few more times, and then he was done. The phone, though, would be the invention that followed him through his entire career. He would start some inventions that would influence others, but nothing was as successful for him during his lifetime as the phone.

The fact that Bell managed to invent anything was impressive. He was supposed to go to university, but it never managed to become a reality. He also had really no understanding of electricity. How he managed to accomplish anything is an impressive achievement considering his background. He was also very dedicated to the deaf community. He believed that deaf children should be raised in the hearing world so that they were not cut out of regular society. His wife did not know sign language, she spoke and read lips, so that many people were not always aware of the fact that she could not hear.

This book was marketed as a biography of Alexander Graham Bell, but it was also a book about his charming wife, Mabel. Readers get a chance to see their relationship, and also to learn about both of their lives. Mabel was an extraordinary woman for her times, she was a loving mother, but also the head of the household in many ways. It is quite apparent that her husband could be about unbalanced, but she never let it get her down. She was quite capable of keeping her husband balanced. It is hard to say what would have happened to ell without her there to keep him straight.

Charlotte Gray wrote a very good biography of a very interesting man. It was very readable. Sometimes biographies can be a bit dull, but this one was not. I strongly recommend this book if you have any interest in this subject matter.

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