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Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children Hardcover – April 13, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Lawson, daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, debuts with this anthology. Along with advice and words of wisdom, these letters offer intimate insights into the lives of 68 acclaimed Americans-actors, artists, explorers, inventors, novelists, playwrights, politicians-including Ansel Adams, Thomas Edison, Sam Houston, Mary Todd Lincoln, Jack London, Clare Boothe Luce, Groucho Marx, John O'Hara, Frederick Law Olmsted, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Laura Ingalls Wilder. The material is gathered thematically into chapters such as "Love," "Loss" and "Struggle," and each correspondent gets a biographical, scene-setting introduction. Lawson views letters as "the color, heart, and personality of history," and McCullough, in his foreword, calls them "missives of love," adding, "Often the authors want only to save their children from making the mistakes they have." Among these colorful and compassionate epistles are delights and surprises. While Alexander Graham Bell copied jokes from newspapers, the Three Stooges' Moe Howard composed poetry for his eight-year-old daughter. Suffering in a New Jersey hospital, Woody Guthrie told nine-year-old Arlo, "Don't whine to god.... Be thankenful [sic] to god." Illustrator N.C. Wyeth cautioned Andrew Wyeth: "There's a real task on our hands, Andy. Modern art critics and their supine followers like the flat and the shallow." Spanning three centuries, this is a meticulously edited collection, enlightening and entertaining. An appendix traces births, death, marriages and children for each author.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–While readers may feel quite familiar with the public side of such notables as Ansel Adams, John O'Hara, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., in Posteritythey get to see yet another side, that of parent. Lawson has gathered a wonderful collection of letters that are thought provoking and, in some cases, heart wrenching. Two guidelines governed inclusion: the writers had to have made substantial contributions to our country and the letters had to reveal something of value. An introductory paragraph sets the scene and gives readers a brief understanding of the context of the epistle, its tone, and its content. As a whole, this anthology shows the parent-child relationship in all its forms: congratulatory and accusatory, contentious, and amicable. The entries are arranged thematically in chapters such as "Strength of Character," "Good Work," and "Struggle and Loss." In the foreword, historian David McCullough makes the point that it is a shame that people no longer write letters to their children. What a loss it would have been not to be able to read the words of O'Hara to his daughter Wylie: "The greatest pleasure I have in life is the responsibility of being your father. It is a greater pleasure than my work, which is saying a lot because I love my work." Black-and-white photos are included. This is a timeless collection of family thoughts, hopes, and dreams.–Peggy Bercher, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 316 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038550330X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385503303
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #244,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By V. L. Wilson on July 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This wonderful book spans more than three centuries and gives the reader insights into the thoughts of many great Americans as they wrote to their children.
This treasury of short letters also provides some background for each one. The research needed to discover these personal letters is documented. I love this collection and the way all the letters are presented.
To quote from the author's father, David McCullough, "This is a book to pick up and read at almost any page, a book to keep close at hand, to return to for nourishment and guidance, yes, but also for reassurance and pure pleasure". I couldn't have said it any better! This quotation says exactly how I feel. I want to purchase several copies to give as gifts and as a parent, I even feel compelled to write to my own children!
All the letters provide wonderful insights into the minds of the parents, and I have several favorites; Eleanor Roosevelt wrote one to one of her sons who wanted to skip Christmas and it is so touching! As Dorie M. Lawson reminds us, letter writing is generally a thoughtful art - it cannot compare to e-mail writing.
These personal letters from parent to child are arranged thematically and within each section, they are in chronological order and printed in their entirety just as they were composed. It is thrilling to read them, especially the really old ones and all of them were written by aparent who made worthwhile contributions to America.
Here are a few of the parents whose letters are included: Thomas Jefferson to his daughter Patsy, Harry Truman to his daughter Margaret, General Patton to his son, Oscar Hammerstein to his son, and so many more from all walks of life. All of us who have children and even those who do not, will benefit from reading this rare collection of parents expressing their thoughts.
Thank you Dorie McCullough Lawson and please continue writing!
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 27, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Dorie McCullough Lawson has compiled a touching and inspiring array of letters from the famous and infamous to their children. Spanning centuries, this compilation proves that the concerns and joys of parenting are timeless and universal - from love to finances to courage to character, the authors sought to impart the same lessons to their offspring that parents struggle to teach today.
Even non-parents will enjoy the glimpse into the authors' private lives - that which took place offstage, so to speak. In most cases, the parents understood their place in history and the letters reflect that fact - Elizabeth Cady Stanton writes that she is "making the path smoother" for her daughters and "all the other girls". She describes the scene of her latest speech, allowing the girls to understand the sacrifices that their family is making for posterity. Through these letters we see that their lives weren't so different from our own - the triumphs we read about in history books came with tremendous compromises and the legends we know from television news make often painful choices between their destinies and their families.
This is a wonderful book full of insight and comfort and deserves space on every nursery bookshelf.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Gail Cooke HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In this day of email and instant messaging does anyone ever take the time to write a longhand letter? What will future generations have to reference in order to learn more about us, who we were and what we thought? Well, I don't have the answer to those questions but I do know that today we can read the letters of some very distinguished people who did take the time to advise, order or console their children via pen and ink.
Yes, the writers of the letters contained in this volume are famous Americans, but they are also very much like all of us when it comes to our offspring. What a privilege it is to be able to read these letters and in that way perhaps know a little more about what was in the writers' hearts and minds.
The letters are arranged by theme, from "Continuity" to "Rules To Live By," and each letter is preceded by a brief biographical sketch.
We find Albert Einstein writing to Hans Albert Einstein, "What I have achieved through such a lot of strenuous work shall not only be there for strangers but especially for my own boys.....I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits......"
Sam Houston tells Sam, Jr. of a mother's love: "Your Ma loves you more than she does any one else, so you should love her, more than any one." While John Adams sends a note of caution to John Quincy Adams: "...Go and see with how little Wisdom this World is governed."
In moments of discouragement Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote to Georgiana Stowe: "Why have n't I written?
Read more ›
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I'm not a big fan of the genre of letters literature, but this book completely surprised and enthralled me. The obvious hook is the eclectic group of thinkers, from Thomas Edison and Jack London to Moe Howard from the Three Stooges and Woody Guthrie. Each writer reveals a profound love of family, children, sense of humor and warmth that is collectively astonishing and heartbreaking. (...)
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