Saturday 31 October 2015

Mark Twain: The Father of American Literature

"In a good book room you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through the skin, without even opening them." (Mark Twain)

Samuel Langhorne Clemens grew up on the lazy Mississippi River, serving as inspiration for his books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin.  He served as a printer's apprentice in Hannibal, Missouri where he grew up.  Later, he moved to big cities like New York, Philadelphia and St. Louis where he educated himself at the public libraries.  Under the pen name Mark Twain he penned 28 novels and numerous short stories.  Eugene O'Neill proclaimed him "The Father of American Literature."

A statue of Mark Twain seated on a bench

Friday 30 October 2015

Horace Mann: The Father of American Public Education

"A house without books is like a room without windows.  No man has a right to bring up children without surrounding them with books...Children learn to read being in the presence of books." (Horace Mann)

Horace Mann had a total of six weeks of schooling between the ages of 10 and 20.  Yet, as an adult, he became a successful lawyer, politician, abolitionist and educational reformer.  How did he do it? He visited the town library.

Horace Mann, the son of a Yankee farmer, was born into poverty in 1796.  His health suffered as he had to endure hard manual labour.  His education suffered as well.  It was only through the town library, the nation's first public library, founded by Benjamin Franklin, that Horace was exposed to literature. 

Somehow, Horace prepared himself for the entrance exam which he passed and was accepted at Brown University.  He continued his studies at Litchfield Law School and passed the Norfolk County Bar exam to become a lawyer.

In 1827, Horace was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a position which he held for several years, along with the Massachusetts State Senate.  In 1837, Horace was appointed the secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, a position that he took on with passion.  He set out to visit every school in the state and see what changes needed to made to improve the system.  He planned the common school system, the original teacher's colleges.  He founded and contributed to the Common School Journal.  In 1843, Horace visited Prussia to study their successful educational system and returned to Massachusetts to implement their ideas.

Horace believed strongly in the following reforms:  more school houses, better equipped school houses, longer schooling (up to 16 years of age), higher paid teachers and a wider curriculum. Horace believed not only in promoting the academic subjects but also building the character of each student and the inculcation of Christian values.  He encouraged obedience to authority and promptness in attendance to prepare each student for the working world.  

Horace Mann, who is known as "The Father of American Education" today, also believed strongly in education at home.  "A house without books is like a room without windows.  No man has a right to bring up children without surrounding them with books...Children learn to read being in the presence of books."

Horace Mann, Father of American Public Education, courtesy

Thursday 29 October 2015

Michael Caine: From the Elephant to Hollywood

"Books were my window on the world.  Growing up at the Elephant and Castle, which was very rough, my paradise was the library." (Michael Caine)

The son of a fishmarket porter and charwoman, Maurice Michelwhite grew up in a poor family.  In fact, they were so poor that young Maurice was born with rickets, a disease resulting from malnutrition.  Being evacuated during the London Blitz proved a blessing in disguise for Maurice as he ate properly for the first time, growing to a whopping 6 foot 2.  Maurice was one of 3.75 million Brits evacuated during the Second World War.

After the war, the Michelwhite's resettled in prefabricated housing at the Elephant and Castle, named after a coaching inn.  What was supposed to be temporary housing turned into an 18-year stay for the family. Maurice thought they had moved up in the world thanks to the indoor toilet.  Even so, the neighbourhood was sketchy.  "Books were my window on the world.  Growing up at the Elephant and Castle, which was very rough, my paradise was the library," he later explained (

At 19 years of age, Maurice served in the military in Korea.  Upon returning, he took up acting. Following the advice of his agent, he decided to change his name from Maurice Michelwhite to Michael Caine, after spotting a marquee advertising the film The Caine Mutiny.  Michael Caine starred in Zulu in 1964, but it was his role in The Ipcress File in 1965 which made him famous.  He starred in several war films including The Battle of Britain (1969) and A Bridge Too Far (1977).  The British actor earned Academy Awards for both Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and The Cider House Rules (1999). (

While Caine had fame and fortune, he never forgot his roots.  "I kept my Cockney accent in order to let other working class boys know that if I made it, they can make it too."  As one reporter pointed out:  "If success is measured by how far you travel in a lifetime, physically and metaphorically, then his journey from Maurice to Michael, from the Elephant to Hollywood, makes him one of the most successful actors in history." (

The hours that Michael spent at the local library paid off.  He is now an author, penning his autobiography, The Elephant to Hollywood.

I'm not sure my mum understood what I did, and she never understood how much I earned

"I'm not sure my mom understood what I did, and she never understood what I earned," said Caine courtesy

Wednesday 28 October 2015

Walter Cronkite: The Most Trusted Man in America

"Whatever the cost of libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation." 
(Walter Cronkite)

As a little boy in Kansas City in the 1920's, Walter Cronkite was fascinated by an American Boy magazine article detailing the adventures of a roving reporter who travelled the globe.  He wanted to be that reporter.  "Naturally curious and observant, he kept a notebook throughout his youth to record daily observations and often researched in encyclopedias to learn about subjects that interested him." (

While Cronkite's father held a well paying job as a dentist, life came crashing to a halt when the Great Depression arrived and his patients could no longer pay their bills.  Walter's father started drinking to cope and became an alcoholic.  Within three years, the Cronkite's separated and Walter and his mother struck out on their own.  

In high school, Walter wrote for the school newspaper and yearbook.  In 1933, he entered the University of Texas, majoring in Political Science, Economics and Journalism.  The life of a student, however, wasn't for Walter and after a couple of years, he quit to pursue a job with the Houston Post.  Later, he worked as both a radio announcer in Kansas City and a sportscaster in Oklahoma City.  

By World War II, Walter covered the battlefield in Europe from a plane, even shooting a gun at a German plane.  "I used to think that life wasn't worth living if I couldn't get in on the action," explained the young reporter (  At war's end, Walter was given the important assignment of covering the Nuremburg Trials, a job which lasted until 1946.  

In 1952, Walter started covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, a tradition that would continue for the next 30 years.  With the position came recognition.  "Soon he was more famous than the candidates he was covering," explained Todd Barnett.  Cronkite became known for his hard work, accuracy and impartiality.  He spent long hours on the job, earning him the nickname "Iron Pants".  During the 1950's, Cronkite also anchored the weekend edition of the CBS Evening News.  

In 1962, Cronkite was rewarded for his hard work, earning the anchor position of the CBS Evening News.  While NBC's Hunter Brinkley Report had always earned the number one rating, Cronkite soon usurped that position.  The anchor covered such life altering events as John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963, the war in Vietnam, and the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in 1969.  While Cronkite prided himself on his impartiality, the public appreciated his humanity when his eyes welled up with tears after JFK's death announcement, and when he reported Neil Armstrong's "One small step for man" with excitement in his voice.  

As Cronkite came into America's living rooms during the 1960's and 1970's, people felt like they knew him.  A poll declared Cronkite "The most trusted man in America."  However, in 1981, due to the mandatory retirement age of 65, Cronkite bid America goodnight one last time with the words:  "And that's the way it is."

Tuesday 27 October 2015

Anatole France: His Dying Wish was to Expire in his Library

"Each one dreams the dream of life in his own way.  I have dreamed it in my library; and when the hour shall come in which I must leave this world, may it please God to take me from my ladder -- from before my shelves of books!" (Anatole France)

A century ago, upper class people used to have libraries in their homes, with bookshelves which stretched from the floor to the ceiling, sometimes a distance of eight feet or more.  A ladder, attached to a tract, which ran the length of the bookshelves, could be used to stand on and browse for books.  This is where author Anatole France dreamed he would be when he died -- in front of his beloved books.  

Born Francois Anatole Thibault in Paris, France, he later changed his name to Anatole France.  His father owned a bookstore, Librairie France, which he worked in as a young man.  This is where his love of books took shape.  Librairie France was known for its supply of books about the French Revolution.  

Anatole went on to take a job as a cataloguer at Bacheline Deflorenne.  Later, he held a position as a librarian with the French Senate.  Anatole's position in politics would not end there.  When the Dreyfus Affair erupted in France over the Jewish officer accused of being a spy, Anatole signed a manifesto supporting him.  

Anatole started writing articles in 1867.  He published his first poem, La Part de Madeleine, in 1869.  He penned his first novel Le Crime de Sylvestre Gonnard, in 1881.  His novel, Monsieur Bergeret, published in 1901, was based on the Dreyfus Affair.  In 1914, Anatole wrote La Revolte des Anges, considered by some to be Frances' most profound novel.  Anatole wrote in the style of French Classicism. 

Anatole passed away in 1924, at the age of 80.  It remains a mystery whether or not he died in his library, but he remained a bibliophile all of his life.

Monday 26 October 2015

Shelby Foote: PBS Civil War Series Made Him a Millionaire

"Interested more in the process of learning than in earning an actual degree, Foote was not a model student.  He often skipped class to explore the library and once he even spent the night among the shelves." (Wikipedia)

Before Ken Burns' civil War series debuted on PBS, Shelby foote was a relative unknown.  However, as soon as the series aired, Foote started selling 1000 copies a week of his massive work The Civil War:  A Narrative.  

Shelby Foote was born in the Mississippi Delta in 1917, the only child of Shelby Dade Foote and Lillian Foote.  Foote claimed that having no siblings had its advantages:  "Getting close to books, and spending time by myself, I was obliged to think about things I would have never thought about if I was romping around with a brother and sister."  (  Foote lost his father at the age of five, perhaps making him retreat even more into books.

Foote was accepted at the University of North Carolina by the skin of his teeth.  There he was "interested more in the process of learning than in earning an actual degree, Foote was not a model student.  He often skipped class to explore the library and once he even spent the night among the shelves."

After two years, Foote returned to greenville Mississippi where he started writing for The Delta Democratic Times with a side job in construction.  In 1946, he had a piece titled Flood Burial published in the Saturday Evening Post.  He quit his job to write fulltime.  

Foote's first nove, Tournament, was published in 1949.  He said he was heavily influenced by his literary hero, William Faulkner.  By the mid-1950's, he started working on a massive volume called The Civil War:  A Narrative with grant money from the Guggenheim Fellowships and Ford Foundation.  Volume 1, Fort Sumter to Perryville, was first published in 1958.  Volume 2, Fredericksburg to Meridian, debuted in 1963.  Volume 3, Red River to Appomattox, first appeared in print in 1974.  Foote always maintained that President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate General Forrest, were the "two authentic geniuses of the war," a conflict that his great-grandfather participated in.  

In the late 1980's, Ken Burns came calling.  He did several interviews with the author.  When Burns' Civil War series debuted in September of 1990, "Foote's drawl, erudition and quirk of speaking as if the war were still going on  made him a favorite".  In one week at the end of September, Foote's The Civil War:  A Narrative sold 1000 copies a day.  Foote told Burns:  "Ken, you've made me a millionaire."

Foote passed away in 2005 and is buried next to the family plot of General Forrest.

Sunday 25 October 2015

Laura Bush: UN Ambassador for Decade of Literacy

"I have found the most valuable thing in my wallet is my library card."
(Laura Bush)

Former First Lady Laura Bush was born in 1946 in Midland, Texas where her mother taught her the importance of reading from an early age.  "When I was a little girl, my mother used to read stories to me.  I have loved books and going to the library ever since.  In the summers, I liked to spend afternoons reading in the library.  I enjoyed the Little House on the Prairie Books and Little Women...Reading gives you enjoyment throughout your life." (

In the 1960's, Laura Bush's loved of literacy continued as she studied education at university and took a job as a teacher.  In 1973, Laura returned to school to pursue her Masters in Library Sciences and secured a position at Houston Public Library.  

In 1977, Laura met and married George Bush Jr.  When she was first introduced to her husband's grandmother, Dorothy Walker Bush, the latter asked her what she did for a living.  Her reply was simply:  "I read." (

In 1981, after three years of trying to conceive, Laura gave birth to twin girls, Jenna and Barbara, named after their grandmothers.  Continuing the family tradition, Laura read regularly to her girls, including the Laura Ingalls Wilder series.  

In 2001, Laura's husband was inaugurated as the President of the United States.  Here was Laura's opportunity to use her forum as First Lady to promote literacy, an opportunity that she seized upon with gusto.  In partnership with the Library of Congress, Laura created the National Book Festival in her husband's first year as president.  In 2002, she testified before the Senate Committee on Education for higher teachers' salaries.  The First Lady luanched "Ready to Read, REady to Learn" promoting early childhood literacy.  

In 2003, Laura was declared the Ambassador for the United Nations Decade of Literacy, a position which she held until 2012.  

Two years later, when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit, Laura secured a $500,000 grant for libraries in regions hit by these disasters.  Focussing on Texas, she headed up a book festival which raised $900,000 for 350 libraries in her home states.  As Laura explained:  "Once a child learns to use a library, the doors to learning are always open."

In 2008, Laura and her daughter Jenna co-authored the book Read All About It!  The same year, she visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum, where she gave the writer the Save America's Treasures grant.  

In her role as United Nations Ambassador for Literacy, Laura has extended her focus to other nations, particularly the Middle East, and to women.  "Literacy lifts women out of poverty and opens doors of opportunity," said the former First Lady.

Note:  For more information, visit

Laura Bush participates in UNESCO round table discussion in Paris in 2007 courtesy

Saturday 24 October 2015

Jean Fritz: When I Discovered Libraries, It Was Like Having Christmas Everyday

"I never felt truly American.  When I finally got to America, I wanted to put down roots, and did it through history." (Jean Fritz)

Jean Fritz was born in 1915 to American missionaries in China.  An only child, she felt isolated, but books helped her conquer her solitude.  At age five, Jean declared that she would become a writer when she grew up.  She attended a British school until Grade 8 when her family fled China, aboard the President Taft, due to anti-Western rioting.

In the United States for the first time, Jean explained:  "I never felt truly American.  When I finally got to America, I wanted to put down roots, and did it through history."  Jean, wanting to find out more, performed the childhood rite of passage by signing up for a library card.  "When I discovered libraries, it was like having Christmas everyday."  Every book was like a gift, especially treasures like The Secret Garden and Just So Stories.

Jean attended university, and after a short career in teaching, moved to Dobb's Ferry, New York where she volunteered in the public library.  She helped set up a new children's department; her work there would inspire her later children's books.

After dabbling in poetry in high school and university, Jean tried her hand at short stories, some of which were published in Humpty Dumpty in the 1950's.  Her first book, Fish Head, published in 1954, featured a stowaway cat on a fishing boat.  Her first historical novel, The Cabin Faced West, was published in 1958.  Jean went on to publish a series of historical books for children including What's the Big Idea, Franklin?, Who's That Stepping on Plymouth Rock?, and You Want Women to Vote Lizzie Stanton?  Jean won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for her "substantial and lasting contribution to children's literature".

Friday 23 October 2015

Ray Bradbury: Read Steinbeck, Shakespeare & Frost at Waukegan Library

"Libraries raised me.  I don't believe in colleges and universities.  I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money.  When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression, and we had no money.  I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years." (Ray Bradbury)

It is ironic that the author of Fahrenheit 451, about a book burning, in essence an author witch hunt, is the descendant of Mary Bradbury, who was tried at the Salem Witch Trials.  But Ray Bradbury's story did not begin in a Massachussetts courtroom, but rather an Illinois library.  

Ray Bradbury was born and raised in Waukegan, Illinois in 1920.  His aunt would read him short stories, building the foundation for a future writer.  Bradbury became a frequent visitor to the Waukegan Carnegie Library where he would read H. G. Wells, Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe.  By 11 years of age, he was already writing stories on Depression era butcher paper.

The Bradbury family fell on hard times and twice they moved to Arizona where his dad looked for worked, but returned to Waukegan, Illinois.  Finally, in 1934, the family moved permanently to Los Angeles, arriving with 40 dollars in their possession.  Bradbury, thrilled to be in town, roller-skated through Hollywood, hoping to meet some celebrities.  His encounter with George Burns led to his first paid writing job on the Burns & Allen Show at the tender age of 14.

In 1936, Bradbury joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society which met once a week.  Bradbury loved to read comics and was heavily influenced by Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.  By 1938, he was writing for fanzines.  In 1942, Bradbury's first short story was published, The Lake, for $13.75. At 22 years of age, he was a full time writer.  By 1947, his first short story collection, Dark Carnival, was published.

The novel, however, had proven elusive to Bradbury.  But the young author had developped self discipline.  From the time he was a young boy, he had been writing everyday.  By the time he and his wife were expecting their first child in 1949, he was hard at work on a story.  He visited UCLA's Powell Library where he rented out a typewriter for ten cents every half hour until he had completed his manuscript.  Bradbury bought a bus ticket for New York City, checking into a YMCA for 50 cents a night.

Bradbury walked up and down Madison Avenue trying to get a contract for his book.  After a dozen rejections, he was ready to go home.  However, he would try Doubleday first.  He explained to the publisher that everyone wanted a novel, but he was selling a short story.  The publisher asked him if he had enough short story to make a book.  They could call it The Martian Chronicles.

In 1951, Bradbury approached a publisher with a story, The Fireman, about a book burning future society.  It was published in Galaxy Science Fiction that year.  The publisher at Ballantine Books convinced Bradbury to double the manuscript, which he accomplished in just nine days, and resubmit the book as a full-fledged novel.  Re-titled Fahrenheit 451, it was published in 1953 and went on to become Bradbury's greatest work.  

In his lifetime, Bradbury penned 27 novels and over 600 short stories.  His works were translated into 36 languages.  The sci-fi author credited John Steinbeck with his writing style which earned him a Pulitzer Prize in 2007.  While he received many literary awards, Bradbury never forgot where he got his start.  Remembering the Waukegan Library, the famous author raised money to prevent the closure of several California libraries.

As Bradbury explained:  "Libraries raised me.  I don't believe in colleges and universities.  I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money.  When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression, and we had no money.  I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years." (

Carnegie Library

Waukegan Public Library courtesy 

Thursday 22 October 2015

Louis L'Amour: Education of a Wandering Man

"I like them all.  There's bits and pieces of books that I think are good.  I never rework a book.  I'd rather use what I've learned on the next one, and make it a little better.  The worst of it is that I'm no longer a kid and I'm just now getting to be a good writer.  Just now." (Louis L'Amour)

How did Louis L'Amour, a high school dropout, become one of the most popular writers of all time? He was a lifelong learner.  

Louis L'Amour, born in North Dakota in 1908, was the seventh child of Louis Charles LaMoore and Emily Dearborn LaMoore.  Louis Sr., a veterinarian, used the family barn for his practice.  Louis Jr., gifted with an active imagination, used to use the barn to play cowboys and Indians, a common game for children living on the Frontier.  

After a series of bank failures, the LaMoore's were forced to move to where they could find work.  Over the next several years, the family skinned cattle in Texas, baled hay in New Mexico, worked the mines of Arizona, Nevada and California, and the lumber camps of the Pacific Northwest.  Louis met people of all walks of life, many serving as inspiration for characters in his future novels.  

For extra money, Louis boxed in prize fights in small towns, proving to be a formidable opponent.  He joined the merchant marine and sailed to Singapore and the West Indies.  Whenever he arrived in a new town or city, the first place he would seek out was the local library.  He read voraciously.  If the town had no library, he would skip meals to buy books.  He would scribble notes on cheap notepads with ideas he would later used for his stories.

Louis' first story, Anything for a Pal, was published in 1936 in the publication True Gang Life.  Two years later, his stories began to appear regularly in pulp magazines.  Louis started to write for Standard Magazine as well.  When the U.S. joined World War II, Louis enlisted as a Lieutenant.  His war years served as more fodder for his stories.

In 1951, Louis sold his first novel, Westward the Tide.  At the time, publishers were reluctant to publish more than one or two books per author.  However, with a dozen novels to his credit and with several million copies sold, Louis secured a deal with Bantam Books to write three books per year.  He became the king of the Western novel.  

While he never acquired much of a formal education, his years on the road served as his education. Showdown at Yellow Butte (1953) came out of his years living on the Frontier.  Guns of the Timberlands (1955) came out of his years working in the timber camps.  Mohave Crossing (1964) tells the tale of a perilous journey through a treacherous dessert, a true life event for Louis.  North to the Rails (1971) features a cattle rancher, another subject familiar to Louis.  Cherokee Trail (1982) talks about a woman running a stagecoach station on the Frontier (

In total, Louis penned over 100 novels, 250 short stories, and two non fiction works.  His novels were translated into 10 languages.  When asked not long before his death which novel he liked the best, Louis explained:  "I like them all.  There's bits and pieces of books that I think are good.  I never rework a book.  I'd rather use what I've learned on the next one, and make it a little better.  The worst of it is that I'm no longer a kid and I'm just now getting to be a good writer.  Just now."  Louis was still learning, even at 80 years old.  Louis' autobiography, published posthumously, is called Education of a Wandering Man.

Wednesday 21 October 2015

Nobel Prize Winner Ernest Hemingway Read A Great Number of Books

"He read everything around the house, all the books, all the magazines, even the AMA journals from dad's office downstairs.  Ernie also took out a great number of books from the public library." (Marcelline, sister of Ernest Hemingway)

Growing up in Oak Park, Illinois, Ernest Hemingway used to read everything he could get his hands on.  His older sister, Marcelline, said that their bookshelf was filled with authors like Shakespeare, Scott, Stevenson, Dickens and Thackeray.  Periodicals such as National Geographic, Atlantic Monthly and Harper's were on the bookshelf at the family cottage on Walloon Lake in Upper Michigan.  

Hemingway also visited the public library on a regular basis.  By the turn of the last century, libraries had sprung up in many towns and cities across the United States, thanks in large part to the generosity of Andrew Carnegie.  Books were starting to come down in price with Little Leather Library, the book of the month clubs and paperback publications.  

Hemingway translated his long hours of reading into a successful writing career, penning seven novels, six short collections, two non fiction works and endless articles.  He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.  

The year before, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Oak Park Library, he wrote:  "I was at sea or I would have sent you a message telling you how much I owe to the Library and how much it meant to me all my life."    

Passport photograph

Hemingway worked as a correspondent for the Toronto Star Weekly at the time of this photograph courtesy

Tuesday 20 October 2015

Dolly Parton's Dad Inspiration for Imagination Library

"The seeds of these dreams are often found in books and the seeds you help plant in your community can grow across the world." (Dolly Parton)

Dolly Parton was born and raised in a log cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee in 1946.  Dirt poor, her parents, Mr. Lee and Miss Parton, struggled to raise twelve children.  Every day her father would go to work with a green dinner bucket.  He would save something in his lunch -- a piece of pie or a part of a sandwich -- to share with his children when he returned.  While children in the first world would not think of it as much, Mr. Lee's children "would take those tasty treats to a hideaway under a blackberry bush and have a picnic fit for a king."  

Dolly thought about how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples.  "At night, we used to take turns rubbing Daddy's cracked, hard working hands with corn silk lotion and we soaked and washed his tired old feet."  The tradition continued for decades until Mr. Lee passed away and gave his green dinner bucket to his friend Oscar Dunn.  It was a difficult Christmas that year, but Dolly's brother Randy had a surprise waiting for him under the Christmas tree:  the green dinner bucket.  When he opened it up, he discovered that Mr. Lee had etched his name in the green paint, something he had learned to do later in life since he never learned how to read.

Dolly grew up to be a star in country music, amassing a small fortune.  She became a prolific songwriter and wanted to promote literacy in the United States.  She decided to open the Imagination Library, her dad serving as her inspiration.  The library, now 20 years old, has donated 8.3 million books to pre-school children across the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia.

Daddy's Dinner Bucket

Monday 19 October 2015

George Eastman: Camera Magnate was Methodical Self-Educator

"The progress of the world depends almost entirely upon education.  I selected a limited number of recipients because I wanted to cover certain kinds of education and I felt that I could get results with those named quicker and more directly than if the money were spread." (George Eastman)

Millionaire businessman George Eastman was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  He lost his father at 7 and was forced to become the man of the household.  His adversity, however, seemed to drive him forward.  He amassed a fortune with the Eastman Kodak Company, which rather than spending on himself, he chose to invest in education.

George Eastman's parents were both born and raised in abolitionist households.  They believed in the importance of education.  Eastman's father founded a college which would serve as a prototype for America's first business schools.  Tragedy struck when he died, leaving his seven year old son to be the head of the household.  George's mother took in boarders, but he felt badly that she had to cook and clean for these strangers.  Tragedy struck again when George's sister fell ill with polio and died at 16.  

At 13, George quit school to start making money to support his family.  He worked both as a messenger boy and as an insurance salesman.  Following in his father's footsteps, he took a job at a bank where he would work all day, six days a week.  Evenings he spent tinkering with his new purchase, a camera.  George would work well into the night, experimenting with photo emulsions.  He would take catnaps, waking himself at regular intervals to stir the emulsions.  George was constantly trying to educate himself.  

George opened a camera and photography supply business which dominated the market by the turn of the last century.  He amassed a fortune which simply sat in a bank account, accumulating pennies for interest.  George decided to donate his money to the cause of education.  He built one of the best music schools in the world, the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.  He donated upwards of $20 million to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and more than $50 million to the University of Rochester.  And in keeping with his abolitionist roots, he supported the cause of black education, donating to the Tuskegee Institute and Hampton Institute.  These donations were often done anonymously as George was not one for self-aggrandizement. 

Eastman relaxing in his library courtesy

Sunday 18 October 2015

Alfred Nobel: Merchant of Death Became Champion of Peace

"The Merchant of Death is dead." (French newspaper, 1888)

"The Merchant of Death is dead," reported a French newspaper in 1888, mistaking Emil Nobel for his brother, Alfred.  Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, did not want to go down in history with such a moniker.  Childless and single, he decided to leave his fortune to a prize championing the cause of peace.  

Alfred Nobel was born into poverty in Stockholm, Sweden.  His father, an engineer, later built a decent career building bridges and buildings.  However, the economy suffered and downswing and Mr. Nobel declared bankruptcy.  Later, he moved to St. Petersburg, Russia where he finally enjoyed some financial success.

From a young age, Alfred demonstrated a passion for knowledge.  He particularly loved poetry and dabbled in it as a youth.  However, his father, wanting him to be an engineer, discouraged his study of literature.  Alfred also showed a passion for languages, becoming fluent in Swedish, German, French and Russian, English, which would serve him well in his world travels.  Alfred's knowledge of the latter was vast enough to write poetry in it.

Mr. Nobel sent his son to Paris, France to study science.  Later, Alfred moved to America to study under the engineer John Ericsson, who built the Civil War ship the USS Monitor.  While in Russia, Alfred studied under chemist Nikolai Zinin.  

Alfred fell in love with chemistry and devoted the rest of his life to studying it.  He was particularly interested in inventing a substance that would detonate nitroglycerin safely.  His patent for dynamite followed in 1867.  While he lost his brother Ludwig to a chemical experiment in 1888, he continued to work in the field.  Eventually he filed 355 patents and opened a worldwide network of almost 100 factories.  Alfred amassed a fortune of $9 million, which he donated to the Nobel Prize upon his death.

For more information, visit

Saturday 17 October 2015

Benjamin Franklin: The Doors of Wisdom are Never Shut

"Being ignorant is not such a shame as being unwilling to learn." (Benjamin Franklin)

Although Benjamin Franklin was forced to quit school at the age of 10 and work, he devoted the rest of his life to the pursuit of knowledge.  Franklin opened the first subscription library which is still in operation today.

One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Franklin was born in the early 1700's.  While Franklin did not receive much of a formal education, he demonstrated a passion for learning.  Once he left school, he would devote "one or two hours a day immersed in books".  

His pursuit of knowledge continued into adulthood and he made a name for himself with the invention of the lightning rod, bifocals and Franklin stove.  Known as a thinker, Franklin started a society called Junto, a group of "like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.  They would gather every Friday at the alehouse and discuss politics, morals and philosophy.  Franklin wrote down possible questions to debate at each meeting.  Members included scientist Isaac Newton, astronomer David Rittenhouse and physician Benjamin Rush. (

The Junto members all enjoyed reading but books were rare and expensive in 18th Century America.  Franklin had a solution:  why not open a subscription library?  He suggested that the Junto members pool their money and buy books to be shared among the members.  He hired America's first librarian, Louis Timothee, to oversee the collection, which was called the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was later opened to the public.  Franklin said of his library:  "The doors of wisdom are never shut." (

The Doors of Wisdom are Never Shut - Ignorance

Friday 16 October 2015

Queen of Crime Based Detective Novels on Real Life Travels

Raised in a wealthy upper middle class English family, Agatha Christie taught herself to read at the age of five.  While it took her five years to publish her first novel, by the time of her death, she had written over 60 detective novels, translated into 103 languages, making her "The Queen of Crime".

Agatha maintained that she had a happy childhood.  Her mother, a good storyteller, did not want her to learn how to read until she was 8 years old.  However, a determined Agatha taught herself how to read, and was soon devouring chapter books.  Mrs. Molesworth's The Adventures of Herr Baby was one of her favourites.  Edith Nesbit's The Phoenix and the Carpet and The Railway Children helped to expand her imagination.  Agatha also enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, sewing the seeds of a detective novelist.

Agatha started her writing career with short stories, penning the title The House of Bravery.  Her later short stories, reflecting how well read she was as a child, were based on nursery rhyme titles:
And Then There were None (Ten Little Indians); One Two Buckle My Shoe; Five Little Pigs (This Little Piggy); Crooked House (There Was a Crooked Man); A Pocket Full of Rye (Sing a Song of Sixpence); Hickory Dickory Dock; and Three Blind Mice. (

Her first novel, Snow Upon the Desert, featured scenes from Cairo, Egypt which she had visited.   Rejected by six publishers, it took Agatha five years to publish it.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, was Agatha's first detective novel.  Poirot, who would become famous, was based on the Belgian refugees who appeared in her town after the First World War.  Agatha continued to write detective stories, often inspired by real life events.  In 1934, a train trip to Istanbul led to her novel Murder on the Orient Express, one of her most famous title which was later made into a film.

In 1928, Agatha divorced her first husband, Christie, and married archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan. She often joined him at excavations sites.  While he dug, she would clean off artifacts, reconstruct pottery, take photographs and record field notes.  These came in handy for future detective novels like:  Murder in Mesopotamia (1936), Death on the Nile (1937) and They Came to Baghdad (1951).

In total Agatha penned over 60 detective novels, making her the best selling fiction writer of all time, save maybe Shakespeare.  The young girl who had been inspired by Sir Conan Doyle went on to inspire other generations to read:  "The gripping whodunits of Christie turned people into voracious readers." (

Thursday 15 October 2015

J.K. Rowling: "Never Happier Than When She was Reading"

"I was never happier than when reading or writing." (J. K. Rowling)

In 1993, J. K. Rowling was a divorced mother of a little girl and living on welfare with the dream of publishing a book about a wizard.  Today, she is married with three children, and thanks to her Harry Potter franchise, the first billionaire writer.  What was her secret to success?  Reading.

J. K. Rowling claimed that "I was never happier than when reading or writing."  Growing up in
Scotland, she read Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse, Paul Gallico's Manxmouse and C. S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, to name a few.  The voracious reader based her Harry Potter character Hermione Granger on 11 year old self.  Her personality lent itself to retreating into a fictional world.

While Rowling loved to read, she was never the ideal student.  While she wrote the entrance exam for Oxford, she was turned down and settled for Exeter University instead where she studied French and the Classics.  

On a train ride from Manchester to London, Rowling wrote the first draft for Harry Potter.  It would be the start of a five year plot outline which would be sidetracked by the death of a her mother.  Looking for a change, Rowling moved to Portugal to teach English for a year.  There she met, married and gave birth to a little girl.  

The marriage turned sour, however, and Rowling returned to Scotland divorced and unemployed.  She continued work on her manuscript, however, on an old manual typewriter.  She would write in cafes while her little girl slept.  Rowling presented Harry Potter to twelve publishers, all of whom turned it down.  When she sent it to Bloomsbury Press, however, the publisher gave it to his 8 year old daughter to read.  She was left wanting more.  Bloomsbury offered her a contract, recommending that she change her name from Joanne to J. K. (K. for her grandmother Kathleen) so as not to scare off her young male audience.  

Rowling's book contract for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was a big first step.  However, her publisher warned her not to quit her day job.  Yet, it led to a successful series which generated $20 billion in revenue and sold almost 500 million copies in 73 languages.  Rowling's inspiration, The Chronicles of Narnia, has sold 65 million copies.


Wednesday 14 October 2015

Martin Luther King Sr.: A Sixth Grade Education and a Pair of Shoes

Martin Luther King Sr. left Stockbridge, Georgia with nothing but a sixth grade education and a pair of shoes.  Within a decade, he would head up the Ebenezer Street Baptist Church.  By 1964, his son would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Baptized Michael King, he was one of ten children raised in rural Georgia.  Life was not easy for the young Michael who witnessed a lynching as well as his drunken father beating his mother.  Early on, he realized the importance of hard work and an education.

Michael followed his sister to Atlanta where he worked odd jobs and started preaching as a lay preacher.  At Ebenezer Baptist Church, he met Rev. Williams who encouraged him to "overcome his educational limitations".  He started courting the minister's daughter, Alberta, who encouraged him to enrol in Bryant Prep School followed by a two year stint at Dillard University.

The couple married and three children followed in quick succession.  All the while, Michael pursued his Bachelor of Theology degree which he received shortly thereafter.  In 1931, Rev. Williams passed away and Michael was appointed the new senior pastor at Ebenezer Street Baptish Church.  Three years later, Michael attended the World Baptist Alliance in Berlin.  There, he learned about Martin Luther and his work with the Protestant Reformation, inspiring him to change his name to Martin Luther King, and his son's name to Martin Luther King Jr.

Returning home from Germany, King Sr. realized that Jim Crow still reigned in the South.  Visiting a shoe shop with his son, he was asked to change seats with a white person.  Explained Martin Luther King Jr.:  "This was the first time I had seen my dad so furious.  That experience revealed to me at a very early age that my dad had not adjusted to the system, and he played a great part in shaping my conscience.  I still remember walking down the street as he muttered:  'I don't care how long I have to live with this system, I will never accept it.'"

King Sr. was true to his word.  After a vicious attack on blacks in the Atlanta bus system in the 1920's, King Sr. refused to ride the buses anymore.  Later, he headed up the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP where he continued to champion the cause of education, securing equal pay for black teachers.  In the 1960s, King Sr. continued to buck the system, riding the whites only elevator to the top floor of the city hall where he pushed for black voting rights.

King Sr. travelled to Oslo in 1964 to see his son, Martin Luther King Jr., receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  "As M. L. stood receiving the Nobel Prize, and the tears just streamed down my face, I gave thanks that out of that tiny Georgia town, I'd been spared to see this and so much else." (

Martin Luther King Sr., at right, and his son, Martin Luther King Jr. at left courtesy

Tuesday 13 October 2015

Booker T. Washington: A Hunger for Learning

"Booker's first exposure to education was from the outside of a school house near the plantation; looking inside, he saw children his age sitting at desks and reading books.  He wanted to do what those children were doing, but he was a slave, and it was illegal to teach slaves how to read and write." (

Booker T. Washington worked as a slave on a Virginia plantation, clad only in a large t-shirt since his owner refused to buy him pants.  He used to lug 100 pound sacks of grain to the mill on the back of a mule.  If the sack fell off, he would have to wait until someone came along to help him hoist it back onto the mule.  Returning late, his owner would whip him for his tardiness.

"Booker's first exposure to education was from the outside of a school house near the plantation; looking inside, he saw children his age sitting at desks and reading books.  He wanted to do what those children were doing, but he was a slave, and it was illegal to teach slaves how to read and write."  His mother, seeing his interest in learning to read, gave him a book from which he learned the alphabet. (

When the Civil War ended, Booker and his mother were freed.  His mother had remarried, and along with his stepfather, he moved to West Virginia.  There, he and his stepfather secured work in a salt mine.  But Booker's heart was not in it.

A nearby plantation owner's wife, Mrs. Ruffner, was looking for a houseboy and gardener.  Rumor had it that Mrs. Ruffner was very particular and had high standards.  Booker was up to the task.  He impressed his employer so much that she gave him books to read.  She taught him proper English, history and math.  She encouraged him to take pride in his work, even if it was physical labour. ( 

At 16, Booker wanted to attend university so badly that he walked 500 miles to the Hampton Institute.  There, he took a job as a janitor to finance his school tuition.  His hard work earned him a scholarship.

Upon graduation, he taught for a short time in an elementary school.  Within four years, he was offered a teaching position at his alma mater.  In 1881, the Alabama legislature approved $2000 for a colored school.  Booker headed up the new Tuskegee Institute until his death in 1915.

READ ARTICLE: W.E.B. Du Bois, Booker T. Washington and the Origins of the Civil Rights Movement

Monday 12 October 2015

Oprah Winfrey: Getting My Library Card Was Like Citizenship

"Books were my path to personal freedom.  I learned to read at age 3 and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi." (Oprah Winfrey)

How did a young black girl raised on a farm with no running water nor electricity grow up to be a billionaire?  It all started with a library card.

Oprah Winfrey spent her childhood on a farm in Mississippi where she wore potato sacks as dresses. The daughter of a broken home, her father remarried.  It was her dad who instilled in her the importance of education, taking her to the public library every two weeks where she withdrew five titles.  "Books were my path to personal freedom.  I learned to read at age 3 and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi."  Not only did Oprah have to read the books she borrowed but she had to present a book report to her parents about each one.  While other children were watching Leave it to Beaver, Oprah was visiting the public library.  

Oprah's passion for reading allowed her the chance to dream.  As she explained: 

"As a young girl in Mississippi I had big dreams at a time when being a Negro child you weren't supposed to dream big.  I dreamed anyway.  Books did that to me.  Books allowed me to see a world beyond the front porch of my grandmother's shotgun house and gave me the power to see possibilities beyond what was allowed at the time:  beyond economic and social realities, beyond classrooms with no books and unqualified teachers, beyond false beliefs and prejudice that veiled the minds of so many men and women of the time.  For me, those dreams started when I heard the stories of my rich heritage.  When I read about Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman and Mary McLeod Bethune and Frederick Douglass.  I knew that there was possibility for me." (

Oprah Winfrey's talk show, which debuted in the 1980's, was seen by more than 40 million Americans each week, as well as millions of viewers worldwide,  Oprah's Book Club, which debuted in 1996, sewed the seeds for new readers.  Ten thousand copies of each selection were sent to over 3500 public and secondary schools.  Oprah's Book Club has boosted sales for authors, who would normally sell thousands of books to hundreds of thousands or even millions.  

Oprah has furthered her love of reading with her Oprah magazine which first hit newsstands in 2000. Among other categories, the magazine has a book review section.  While back on her Mississippi farm, she only had an audience of two for her book reviews, now she has a readership of about 2.5 million.  Upon receiving a United Nations Humanitarian award in 2004, Oprah said:  "Getting my library card was like citizenship."  It paved the way for this self-made billionaire.

Oprah Winfrey at 2 years old, only a year before she learned how to read courtesy

Sunday 11 October 2015

Thomas Edison Read Every Book in Detroit Library

"[My] mother was the making of me...[because] she was always so true and so sure of me and always made me feel that I had someone to live for and must not disappoint." (Thomas Edison)

Thomas Edison, the son of a Mackenzie rebellion participant and a former schoolteacher, was born in Milan, Ohio.  After young Thomas' teacher said he refused to focus at school, he was home schooled by his mother.  She exposed him to the classics, Shakespeare and Dickens.  Edison's mother gave him an elementary science book.  At age 9, Edison performed every experiment in the book. (

Later, his family moved to Michigan.  In his early teens, Edison was hired as a newsboy on the Grand Trunk Railway and rode the trains from Port Huron to Detroit and back.  With hours to kill between trains, Edison visited the Detroit Free Library, one of their first patrons.  He worked his way through every title in the library.

Eventually, he turned his focus to the library's science books.  He set up a mini laboratory on the train where he performed experiments, marking his bottles with the word Poison so no one would touch them.  One day, a stick of phosphorous rolled on the floor and ignited.  The conductor booted him off the train, but not before he had learned something. (

Edison's curiosity, which led to hundreds of inventions and patents, was peaked by his mother, and his exposure to books.

Edison's childhood home in Milan, Ohio courtesy

Saturday 10 October 2015

Thomas Jefferson: "I Cannot Live Without Books"

"I cannot live without books." (Thomas Jefferson to John Adams)

Before Monticello, the domed house that Thomas Jefferson designed and built in Virginia, there was Shadwell, the birthplace of the third president of the United States.  Shadwell burned in 1779, taking with it Jefferson's beloved collection of books.  

Jefferson spent the rest of his life trying to replenish his personal library.  By 1773, he owned 1250 books, and by 1815, over 6500 titles.  That year, the British Army burned both the White House and the Capitol, destroying the 3000 volumes inside.  The retired president, despite the fact that he loved his books, sold the collection to the Library of Congress for $23, 950.  The books were transported from Monticello to Washington D.C. in ten wagons.  

On May 8, 1815, after the packing and shipping of his collection of books, Jefferson penned a letter to Samuel Smith, stating:  "an interesting treasure is added to your city now become the depository of unquestionably the choicest collection of books in the U.S. and I hope it will not be without some general effect on the literature of our country." (

Once again, Jefferson rebuilt his library.  Although he had debts to pay, he continued to collect a plethora of books on every subject.  Upon his death, his books were sold to pay off outstanding debts. Today, the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world.

Friday 9 October 2015

Theodore Roosevelt Devoured Books Like a Hungry Lion

"Theodore Roosevelt devoured books like a hungry lion feasting on a fresh kill." (Brett McKay)

While Theodore Roosevelt was known as a hunter, as a rough rider, as a statesman and as the man for whom the Teddy Bear is named, he is not known for his intellect.  Yet the 26th President, with an IQ of 149, was one of the most well read presidents.  It is estimated he read tens of thousands of books in his lifetime.

As a child, Theodore suffered from vicious asthma attacks.  While he recuperated in bed, he would read voraciously.  "He devoured books like a hungry lion feasting on a fresh kill."  At an early age, he developped a lifelong passion for knowledge.  (  

Once in the White House, Theodore Roosevelt liked to read a book every morning before breakfast.  He went about his presidential duties during the day.  In the evening, he would read two or three more books.  Not only did he read the books, but he could recall minutes details about what he read. Three factors worked to Theodore's advantage:  firstly, he had a photographic memory; secondly, he knew how to speed read; thirdly, he had keen concentration powers.  As one biographer wrote, "his occupation for the moment was to the exclusion of everything else; if he were reading, the house might fall about his head, he could not be diverted." (

Theodore's love of reading not only helped him to acquire knowledge, but also helped him to connect with others, a skill which came in handy as a politician.  "Whether the subject of the moment was political economy, Greek drama, tropical fauna or flora, the Irish sagas, protective coloration in nature, metaphysics, the technique of football, or post futuristic painting, he was equally at home with the experts and drew out the best that was in them." (

The avid reader became an avid writer, penning more than 35 books in his lifetime, including The Naval War of 1812, helping to establish him as an historian.  

For a list of books that Theodore Roosevelt read, some more than once, visit:

Thursday 8 October 2015

If Lincoln Saved the Union, His Stepmother Saved Him

"...for if Lincoln saved the Union, she [his stepmother] saved him, and for that alone she's entitled to a decent respect." (Ted Widmer)

Abraham Lincoln lost his mother at the tender age of 9.  His father courted and married a widow named Sarah Bush Johnston.  It was Sarah who encouraged Abraham to read.  "He read all the books that he could get his hands on."  And he grew up to be one of the most revered presidents of the United States.

Widower Thomas Lincoln courted and married Sarah, a widow with three children.  The blended family settled in a log cabin in Indiana.  The first gift that the new Mrs. Lincoln gave her stepson was four books:  Aesop's Fables, Robinson Crusoe, Pilgrim's Progress and Sinbad the Sailor.  Books were scarce on the Indiana Frontier.  Young Abraham, who loved to read, instantly bonded with his new stepmother.  

Sarah recognized Abraham's intelligence and his passion for knowledge.  As a young boy, he used to listen to sermons by the local preacher, and then stand on a stump and repeat them, word for word.  Sarah recognized that the two had similar minds:  Abraham "cared little for clothes or food, but a great deal for ideas."  Although Sarah was illiterate herself, she nurtured Abraham's interest in books.  While it might have been easy for her to give her own children preference, she treated Abraham and his sibling just like her biological children.  Abraham responded in kind.

Sarah and Abraham remained close when he reached adulthood.  I imagine that Sarah also instilled a work ethic and a sense of perseverance in Abraham.  As an adult, although he lost many elections, he never gave up.  His stepmother was always there to cheer him on.  Abraham claimed:  "All that I am and hope to be I owe to my angel mother."  

In 1861, when Abraham was on the brink of his inauguration, he paid one last visit to his stepmother. "She is getting uneasy about you fearing that some of your political opponents will kill you."  The premonition proved correct:  four years later, just after the Civil War ended, Lincoln was assassinated in a Washington DC theatre. 

Sarah outlived her stepson by four years and was buried in an unmarked grave.  In 1924, funds were raised to give her a proper headstone.  As Ted Widmer explained:  "...for if Lincoln saved the Union, she [his stepmother] saved him, and for that alone she's entitled to a decent respect." (

Sarah Bush Johnston Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln’s stepmother.

Wednesday 7 October 2015

Brandon Dixon is Hooked on Books

"For some reason my classmates do not believe me when I answer the question 'How did you get smart?' by pointing to the long list of books I have read since I began devouring them sometime around second grade...after truly examining my intellectual growth throughout the past 12 years, I accredit more than 50% of my knowledge to what I gleaned while reading books." (Brandon Dixon)

Brandon Dixon, a freshman at Harvard University and recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, wrote an essay about the connection between reading and good grades.  For some reading is a luxury; for others a waste of time; for Brandon, it is a necessity.  He accredits "more than 50% of [his] knowledge to what [he] gleaned while reading books."

Brandon points out that he doesn't pour over encyclopedias or dictionaries or textbooks -- he reads fiction.  Novels serve as a gateway to the world.  They peak his curiosity, prompting him to google a topic on the Internet or strike up a conversation with a budding scientist friend.  

Novels serve as a microcosm for the greater society.  Novels speak about the human condition.  They help us understand and empathize with the characters and, in turn, with other people.     

Brandon says he has learned leadership through the heroes in novels.  He has also learned about good versus evil, about morality.  He has learned that one person's definition of morality may vary from someone else's. 

The recent graduate points out that through literature, he can do almost anything.  "I have not physically experienced a lot of things in my life, but my mind has been places my body has never been..."

One might add that it was books that paved the way for Brandon to get into a prestigious school like Harvard.  I'm sure we will hear more from this well-read young man.  

Brandon Dixon headshot

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Dr. Ben Carson's Mother Encouraged Him to Read

"Being poor, there wasn't much opportunity to go anywhere.  But between the covers of a book he could go anywhere, be anybody and do anything." (

How did the son of a third grade dropout become one of the most gifted neurosurgeons in the United States?  He had a mother who encouraged him to read.

Ben's mother, Sonya, married Robert Carson at the tender age of 13.  The couple had two sons, Curtis and Ben, followed by a separation after Mrs. Carson found out that her husband was already married to another woman.  

As a single mother, Mrs. Carson balanced two or three jobs at a time as a domestic servant while trying to raise two young boys in inner-city Detroit.  Determined to make ends meet, she would buy her sons' clothes at the Good Will, patching them when necessary.  The family would pick corn at a local farm in exchange for a portion of the yield.  

Although Mrs. Carson was a third grade drop out, she always encouraged her sons to do well in school.  However, both struggled in the early years, especially Ben who found himself at the bottom of the class.  When other kids ridiculed him, he would lash out in anger.  His temper seemed to get the better of him.

Mrs. Carson insisted that the boys get an education at home as well as at school.  She restricted their hours in front of the television.  Each week, she assigned them two books to read followed by a book report.  At first, Ben resisted, wanting to be with his friends.  However, in time, he started to appreciate literature.  "Being poor, there wasn't much opportunity to go anywhere.  But between the covers of a book he could go anywhere, be anybody and do anything." (

Books provided Ben with a means of escape.  They also gave Ben the chance to dream.  He started to see himself as the central character in each book he read.  Rather than sitting in a classroom in inner city Detroit, he could be Tom Sawyer meandering down the Mississippi or the lion from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  By reading, Ben developped a hunger for knowledge.

Because the Carson's had little money, if one of the boys fell ill, they had to rely on medical assistance.  At the hospital, Ben would listen to doctors being paged over the intercom.  Rather than "Dr. Brown", he would imagine he heard "Dr. Carson".  This imagery was the beginning of his medical career.  

But Ben, the child of a broken home, still battered the anger inside of him, which was bubbling to the surface.  He would fight over trivial things with his friends, classmates and mother.  One day, arguing about a radio station, Ben pulled a knife on his friend and stabbed him.  Fortunately, the knife blade snapped on his friend's belt buckle.

But Ben, unaware, raced home and locked himself in the bathroom with a Bible.  There, he pondered the verse from Proverbs 16:32 which says:  "Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self control than one who takes a city."  He memorized that verse which came in handy every time he felt the anger bubbling over again.

With his interest in his own success, Ben's teachers started showing an interest as well.  At Southwestern High, he had several mentors, especially in the science department.  Thanks to his mother's insistence that he read and study at home, he had developped good work habits and excelled in high school.  

Despite the downturn in the auto industry, Ben managed to find summer jobs in Detroit to save money for college.  His years of reading and working on his homework paid off as he received a scholarship to Yale University where he completed a psychology degree.

Ben went on to medical school and graduated as a neurosurgeon in 1977.  He received a job at Johns Hopkins Hospital where he became the head of Pediatric Neurosurgery at the tender age of 33.  Ben became famous for separating conjoined twins, including a pair from Germany and a pair from Iran. Time magazine named him one of the 20 Foremost Physicians in the United States in 2001. 

An avid reader makes an avid writer and such was the case with Ben who authored several books, four of which are bestsellers.  Gifted Hands talks about his work as a surgeon.

Ben retired from medicine in 2013 and announced he was entering politics in 2015.  

Monday 5 October 2015

Carnegie's Lifelong Pursuit of Knowledge

"Carnegie and Franklin both credited their success to self-education (both spent their spare moments reading any books they could get their hands on)."

Rags to riches millionaire Andrew Carnegie dedicated his life to the pursuit of knowledge.  While he only had a couple of years of formal education, he was constantly educating himself and claimed that this pursuit was the key to his success.

In his Scotland hometown, Carnegie used to visit the library where he would listen to the poetry of Robert Burns.  Immigrating to America, Carnegie wrote a letter to the editor protesting the fact that he couldn't borrow books from the library, a letter which gained him entry to the library.  As a telegraph deliverer he paid visits to the theatre where he lingered to watch productions of Shakespeare.  With his Pittsburgh Library card he borrowed essays written by Charles Lamb and Thomas Macaulay.  

As a teenager, he joined the debating club and pondered questions like "Should the judiciary be elected by the people?"  Carnegie explained:  "Much of my reading...had a bearing on forthcoming debates and that gave clearness and fixity to ideas." (

As a businessman, first with the railroad, then in iron and steel, Carnegie poured over Pittsburgh papers as well as the New York Daily Times.  The entrepreneur started writing books sharing his business strategies like The Gospel of Wealth and The Empire of Business.  Like Benjamin Franklin, Carnegie knew that improving himself included educating himself.  "Carnegie and Franklin both credited their success to self-education (both spent their spare moments reading any books they could get their hands on)." (

Carnegie amassed a fortune only surpassed by John Rockefeller.  He believed in the mantra:  "The man who dies rich dies in disgrace." (  Carnegie started building libraries which he called "instruments of change" and "temples of learning".  One of the first libraries, a beaux arts building in Washington D.C., the inscription read "Dedicated to the diffusion of knowledge."  In total, Carnegie gave $60 million for 2500 libraries in North America and the United Kingdom, all in the name of educating both rich and poor.

For more information, read Andrew Carnegie's Letter to the Editor at  

Patrons in the reading room of the Carnegie Library of Homestead in Munhall, Pa., circa 1900. The Carnegie Steel Co.fought back against striking steel workers in Homestead in 1892. Click here to see a larger view of this image.