BOOK NEWS AND REVIEWS
EXTRAORDINARY MINDS: PORTRAITS OF 4 EXCEPTIONAL INDIVIDUALS AND AN EXAMINATION OF OUR OWN EXTRAORDINARINESS BY HOWARD GARDNER (1997). BASIC BOOKS: NEW YORK.
Although Gardner's work does not specifically focus on gifted education, his writings and insights have significant bearing on this field. In an age that judges the quality of ideas in terms of whether they meet superficial criteria related to political and statistical correctness, his current book offers a pleasant antidote to this situation. He argues for a science of extraordinariness and gives detailed examples of this concept from the lives of Sigmund Freud, Amadeus Mozart, Mahatma Gandhi, Virginia Woolf and many other extraordinary individuals. In the Preface Gardner says: "First, I have concluded that there are four distinct varieties of extraordinary minds. In this book, I seek to explicate the developmental origins and mature practices of the Master, the Maker, the Introspector, and the Influencer. Second, I am convinced that each of us harbors within ourselves the essential ingredients of these four kinds of minds. . . ." (pp. xi-xii).
The book includes Gardner's framework for studying extraordinary development ("Toward a Science of Extraordinariness"), and his discussions of ordinary and extraordinary development. Separate chapters analyze the lives of each of the individuals mentioned above. The last two chapters ("Varieties of Extraordinariness" and "Lessons"): (1) summarize his model of extraordinariness as related to the individuals discussed throughout the book; (2) present interesting discussions of spiritual and moral extraordinariness, and peak societies such as Florence in the fifteenth century and Vienna and London in the nineteenth century; and (3) describe specific concepts that underlie extraordinary minds such as Reflecting, Leveraging and Framing. According to Gardner, these three concepts can help to improve anyone's life and accomplishments. He concludes the book by arguing that educators must encourage all students to study the lives of ". . .those persons and institutions that, often bucking the tide, constitute examples of thoughtful, reflecting Making and Influencing. The heroes of the past -- George Washington, Niels Bohr, Martin Luther King, Jr, Dorothy Day -- and the heroes of the present, both sung and unsung, must be studied and their means of influence understood and reconstituted so that they speak to the present milieu. . . ." (p. 160).
Gardner's work needs to be more widely studied and applied by professors and teachers. It is a mystery and an irony concerning why the ideas discussed in this and Gardner's other books are not more widely disseminated in the gifted field.
Books for a Midsummer Night's Reading --FIREBRAND: THE LIFE OF HORACE LIVERIGHT -- THE MAN WHO CHANGED AMERICAN PUBLISHING BY TOM DARDIS (1995). RANDOM HOUSE: NEW YORK.
Through his application of modern advertising and publicity techniques, and his willingness to take chances on talented but unknown writers, Horace B. Liveright set the tone for the modern book publishing business. He had a knack for identifying and supporting fiction and non-fiction as diverse as Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Dorothy Parker, e.e. cummings, T.S. Eliot, Sigmund Freud, Ernest Hemingway, Anita Loos, Hart Crane, William Faulkner, Djuna Barnes, Ezra Pound, Eugene O'Neill, Bertrand Russell and Hendrik Van Loon. Seven of his authors received the Nobel Prize for Literature during their mature years. He was also a co-creator of the Modern Library Series which he eventually sold to his former protégée, Bennett Cerf, the founder of Random House. Liveright moved the stodgy publishing business of the early 1900's into an exciting enterprise that strongly influenced American culture and thought. His major publishing activities occurred during the roaring twenties -- Liveright's verve and seemingly unlimited energy reflected this era through his unswerving support for many of the great talents of American literature, and some of the most outstanding intellects of the twentieth century. His greatest contribution to American publishing may have been his insistence on defending authors against the irrational forces of censorship represented by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (the notorious Comstock group). He and his lawyers represented several writers in the New York City courts, and they won almost every case.
HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION: THE UNTOLD STORY OF IRELAND'S HEROIC ROLE FROM THE FALL OF ROME TO THE RISE OF MEDIEVAL EUROPE BY THOMAS CAHILL (1995). DOUBLEDAY: NEW YORK.
The author's thesis is that Irish monks preserved and disseminated the major literature of Greek and Roman civilization during the barbarians' invasion of the Roman Empire and throughout the Dark Ages. For example, Plato's writings, the epic poems of Homer and Virgil, the ancient histories of Herodotus and Tacitus, and the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles were hidden in Irish monasteries for hundreds of years, and later re-introduced throughout Western Europe by Irish religious orders founded by St. Patrick. Although Cahill's thesis is a bit exaggerated and lacks chronological rigor, he tells an interesting tale of Irish civilization based on its Celtic myths and historical facts. The trials and tribulations experienced by the people of this great culture are discussed throughout the book. Its contribution to world literature warrants a thoughtful reading of this book by all gifted students and teachers who treasure the works of Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and William Butler Yeats.
EIGHT AMERICAN POETS: AN ANTHOLOGY BY JOEL CONARROE, EDITOR (1994). VINTAGE BOOKS: NEW YORK.
This is a wonderful selection by some of the nation's greatest modern poets. It includes the key poems of Elizabeth Bishop, James Merrill, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Theodore Roethke, John Berryman, Ann Sexton and Robert Lowell. The editor has written a brief biography of each poet's life that appears before his or her poems. These short biographies by themselves are very informative to those individuals interested in biographical studies of giftedness. For no apparent reason understood by this reviewer, many of our best poets have experienced lives of deep conflict and tragedy. Conarroe has organized an inspiring collection of twentieth century poems that should delight lovers of poetry and admirers of the English language. Here is Theodore Roethke's poem, My Papa's Waltz, included in the book:
The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.
We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf,
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.
The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.
You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.
HENDRIK WILLEM VAN LOON (1882-1944): HIS ONGOING FRIENDSHIP WITH HISTORICAL FIGURES
BY MICHAEL E. WALTERS CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF THE HUMANITIES IN THE SCHOOLS
"It was really very simple, but for the moment it must remain our secret, a secret, by the way, which belongs to the happiest recollection of my life - the memory of a perfect friendship." Preface to Lives (1942) by H.W. Van Loon.
Gifted individuals seek the friendship of their intellectual and creative mentors and role models. The figures of the historical past were for Van Loon, his intellectual contemporaries, and he constantly relied on their advice and inspiration. Van Loon was born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands - just a few blocks from where his fellow Dutch writer, Erasmus (1466?-1536), lived and worked. Erasmus, a Renaissance writer and philosopher, was a role model whom Van Loon felt a friendship with across four centuries. Famous for his brilliant satirical essays, The Praise of Folly (1509), Erasmus represented values that were part of this twentieth century historian, Van Loon - toleration, civility, and a respect for learning and books. All of these values were especially significant for Van Loon, who although a naturalized American citizen, was active in the Dutch resistance against the Nazi tyranny and occupation of the Netherlands during World War II.
Two books were published in the 1920's that sought to popularize and humanize knowledge: The Story of Philosophy (1926) by Will Durant and The Story of Mankind (1921) by Hendrik Willem Van Loon. Both books were best sellers in their time and were translated into many different languages. They were like lighthouses of knowledge for gifted readers over many decades. Van Loon was also an excellent artist, and all of his books contained illustrations drawn by himself. His last book, Van Loon's Lives (1942), was about a dinner party where famous individuals came in groups to eat and converse about their lives and ideas. For example, Chapter Five was a dinner party among Cervantes, Shakespeare and Molière. Another gifted individual, Steve Allen, had a PBS television show from 1977-81 which used a similar format. Van Loon also wrote noteworthy biographies of Bach and Rembrandt. His work demonstrates that the gift of friendship is an ongoing process emanating from the gifted of one era to those of the present time.
Maurice D. Fisher, Publisher, Copyright © by Gifted Education Press, August-September 1997