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For the Love of Reading

Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell read in May 2010


Charlotte Gray's non-fiction work, Reluctant Genius: The Passionate Life and Inventive Mind of Alexander Graham Bell (2006), is a book that is skilfully written and thoroughly researched. In 2006 it received the Donald Creighton Award for Ontario History and the City of Ottawa Book Award. The treatment of the life, interests, times of this man and his family goes far beyond the fact that he invented the telephone. The book would appeal to science enthusiasts, historians, and readers who may enjoy love stories. We did like this book and gave it an overall ranking of 3.7. We thought the title was a bit misleading: "Reluctant Genius" could be instead "Reluctant Entrepreneur" while the writing was a bit stilted and the book long and tedious.

Any literary criticisms are soon forgotten because of the intimate details of all aspects of the lives of Alexander and Mabel Bell. The evidence for their strong 45-year marriage is demonstrated through their social interactions and travels; they managed to cope with all their joys, sorrows, and challenges. Alexander's personality and obsessions tried the patience of those around him; his wife's belief in his talents and pursuits was a life-long concern. She handled many of the details for getting his ideas realized and completed by others. Her only insecurity was his long-term relationship with Helen Keller who was one of his many students. In his lifetime, Alexander's other passionate interest was to improve the way deaf people communicate. Mabel was deaf, and so was his mother, and both of these women had great influence over him. Mabel strived to be accepted by the hearing world and did not see Helen as her friend.

Mr. Bell's creative brilliance was tempered by his personality which had many different shades and tones. At times he was despondent and filled with self doubts. He was shy and very much a loner. He shunned the fame, fortune, and acclaims that the inventions were "... Important to him only as so far as they freed him up to think", (p.409). The character traits of loyalty, love, determination and inquisitive intellect assisted him with his quests and adventures. The joys and sorrows of his days were spent on his terms up until his death in August 1922. The tenacity, sparkle and spirit of this person were aided by his family of origin and his long term marriage to Mabel Hubbard; she sustained this man and their children, son-in-laws, and grandchildren until the end of her life in January 1923.

This book is also important because of its portrayal of 19th and 20th centuries in America and Canada. The themes and story lines in this work are multilayered and geographically begin in Scotland, and end in their beloved estate in Nova Scotia, Canada. Throughout the book, the social conventions and mores of these centuries in North America are very detailed.

In her professional life, author Charlotte Gray has worked as a political and cultural commentator in print, radio and television. Her accolades are for her biographies and popular history. She is no stranger to literary panels and the task of judging other literary works. She is the recipient of many awards including the Pierre Burton Award in 2006, because she has popularized Canadian history, and is also a member of the Order of Canada. Born in Sheffield, England, Charlotte began her academic pursuits at the London School of Economics, and Oxford University. She has received Honorary Doctorates from the Universities of Queens, York, Ottawa, Nova Scotia and Mount Saint Vincent. Charlotte has spent the last 31 years in Canada and makes her home in Ottawa with her family.

Our next book to read is: Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones.

Candice D. /Renfrew


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