A rich, anecdotal biography of one of the bestselling authors in publishing history.
Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), aka Dr. Seuss, created more than 60 books, classified mostly as readers for children. However, as Jones (George Lucas: A Life, 2016, etc.) points out in this engaging, page-turning work of Seuss scholarship, Geisel was writing and illustrating for children and adults simultaneously. Some of his books could be considered in the vanguard of activism about environmental degradation (The Lorax), nuclear war (The Butter Battle Book), and an increasingly geriatric society (You’re Only Old Once and Oh, the Places You’ll Go). During his Massachusetts childhood and education at Dartmouth and then Oxford, Geisel developed his talent for drawing comic figures; early in his career, he earned his livelihood as a creator of advertisements for commercial products, including an insecticide. The shift to writing books for children occurred gradually, surprising almost everybody, including Geisel himself, who never had children. Used to being perceived as a funny guy, Geisel evolved into a serious thinker about how to develop books that would encourage children to read while also enjoying the learning process. Jones is particularly masterful in this vein, showing how Geisel, his wife, publisher Bennett Cerf, and other key collaborators collectively revolutionized reading education, with Dr. Seuss always reserving the final say. “Nearly thirty years after his death,” writes the author, “books by Dr. Seuss still sell as well and as fast as ever, rivaled only by the Harry Potter books by the brilliant J.K. Rowling—Geisel’s natural heir, as she reignited the same love for books in today’s young readers that Dr. Seuss had first sparked…fifty years earlier.” Though the narrative is strictly chronological, it never bogs down because the character sketches and publishing anecdotes are so well-rendered, and Jones is especially skillful with foreshadowing. Although sometimes exasperating to work with because of his exacting standards, Geisel comes across as a mostly kind, well-intentioned person.
Whether readers are familiar with Dr. Seuss books or not, they will find this biography absorbing and fascinating.