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Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children Paperback – April 22, 2008

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (April 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767909046
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767909044
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #187,887 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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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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By tides24 on July 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
To often, we think of historical figures as cardboard characters, names in a textbook. In this wonderful book, they come alive as thinking, feeling human beings, sharing their innermost thoughts with their children. No matter the era, or the fame of the writer, the humanity is what one remembers. Perhaps the greatest tribute I can give Dorie McCullough Lawson is the fact that I have since read, or am reading, biographies of N.C. Wyeth, Theodore Roosevelt, John J. Pershing, and Harriet Beecher Stowe...all because of what I learned about them from her book, and the letters therein. "Posterity..." is a book to treasure.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Holly Christensen on March 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've stopped giving redundant, briefly used, baby items to new parents. Instead, I buy them Posterity: Letters of Great Americans to Their Children. The connection to the commonality of parenthood, that feels so unique and precious to many who've encountered it, resonates throughout this collection. Except for Jack London's contribution, you'll smile as you read most of the letters that editor Dorie Mccullough Lawson has included in this peerless treasury.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By H. Banbau on October 2, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I belong to the "Living Your Best Life" study group at the Oshkosh Senior Center, and we are all delighted with this book. We read and discuss a section each week, and have enjoyed the first 3 very much. The book introduces several "Great Americans" that few of our members were familiar with, which has sent several of us to the local library to read some Sherwood Anderson, for instance. I would have given a fifth star if more great women were included--Elizabeth Cady Stanton's letter to her daughter was my favorite thus far, but most sections have only one woman, 3 have none, and two have two. I realize this reflects the relative absence of women from mainstream history texts, but I had hoped the past several decades of research in women's history had reached a wider audience.
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