Cradles of Eminence: Childhoods of More than 700 Famous Men and Women
Goertzel, V., Goertzel, M., Goertzel, T. & Hansen, A.
ISBN: 0-919707-56-1
Great Potential Press
Second Edition
2004

BOOK REVIEW (Davidson Institute) - First published in 1964, Cradles of Eminence is a synthesis of the childhood experiences of more than 400 individuals deemed eminent by the authors; Victor Goertzel, Ted George Goetzel, Mildred George Goertzel, and Ariel Hansen. This book is sure to provoke thought on how to nurture gifted young people.

Reviewed by a Davidson Institute for Talent Development.

Cradles of Eminence is a powerful prism that elegantly splits the pure white light of eminence into an intriguing band of thought-provoking colors.

The Davidson Institute for Talent Development is excited to offer you an advanced review of what is sure to be a "must-read" book this fall -- the second edition of Cradles of Eminence. Available in November 2003 from Great Potential Press, this updated version of the beloved classic is likely to create a resurgence of dialogue among parents and professionals about how we nurture gifted young people.

For those not familiar with this work in its original form, a quick overview is in order. First published in 1964, Cradles of Eminence is a synthesis of the childhood experiences of more than 400 individuals deemed eminent by the authors, Victor and Mildred George Goertzel. Given that eminence--not synonomous with gifted--is a subjective concept, the authors selected individuals who lived in the 20th Century and had at least two published biographies available at the public library in Montclair, New Jersey. Upon completion of their list, both authors spent countless hours reading volumes about each eminent person, looking for specific experiential patterns in their childhoods.

The second edition contains a complete reprint of the original text expanded by a concluding chapter, written by the son of the original authors, Ted George Goertzel, and his co-author, Ariel M. W. Hansen. This chapter provides information about an additional 199 individuals who have had at least two biographies written about them since 1995. Individuals highlighted in the update include George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, Tiger Woods and others who have garnered much attention in the recent past. Goertzel provides an eloquent description about the process he used to determine who would be included in the update.

What both the original and current authors discovered is nothing short of amazing. Because my intention is not to spoil the journey for you, I can only say that the winnowing process produced intriguing, and often surprising, revelations about the childhood experiences of eminent people. If that doesn't pique your curiosity, perhaps a quick perusal of the chapter titles will inspire you to put this book on your must-read list:

Chapter One: Homes that Respect Learning and Achievement
Chapter Two: Opinionated Parents
Chapter Three: Failure-Prone Fathers
Chapter Four: Dominating Mothers, but Few Dominating Fathers
Chapter Five: "Smothering" Mothers
Chapter Six: Troubled Homes
Chapter Seven: Not-so-Troubled Homes
Chapter Eight: Children with Handicaps
Chapter Nine: Early Agonies
Chapter Ten: Dislike of School and Schoolteachers
Chapter Eleven: "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"
Chapter Twelve: Cradles of Eminence Today

The book has many strengths. The magnitude of the research, coupled with the authors' sensitivity to objectively presenting the facts, make this a very readable volume. This is not a "how-to" book, and the authors' caution against overgeneralizing their findings. Just as there is no typical gifted child, there is no direct path to eminence. Many readers likely will come to this work with concerns that it is a volume indicating that gifted young people must be achievers. They will be comforted to know that this is not the book's purpose.

This book is about real people and how they have been affected by a variety of situations. It's about the choices they made. It's about parenting. It's about education. It's about singularity of purpose in the face of adversity. It's about inspiration. Those who come to this work with an open mind will find it intriguing. Those who come with predisposed notions about "gifted" and are apt to over generalize their own experience or that of their children or students, may find it alarming, or at the least contradictory. It's a conceptual work that is at times horrifying, but always engaging.

Of course, the work has weaknesses too. In my opinion, to better understand how their childhood shaped them as eminent people, it would have been helpful to know more about the contributions they made as adults. There is also a dearth of women included in this work, even in the updated chapter. Although this may be due to the practices of publishing companies and public libraries, the authors do not adequately address the subject in describing their selection process. I also found the updated chapter to be surprisingly short. Of the 199 people listed, only 35 were included in the narrative, and most were used as examples to support the patterns identified in the first edition. The additional chapter would have been considerably more compelling if the authors had presented an in-depth and independent analysis of the childhoods of individuals who were added to this latest edition. Finally, the chapter does not discuss the significant social and technological changes that have influenced families over the past 40 years. As such, I found that the last chapter, although interesting and informative, was less of a prism. Rather I found it to be more like a painter's palette; the presentation of different hues.

These weaknesses, however, do not detract in any way from the importance of the work as an springboard for discussion, and perhaps they will be a catalyst for greater research and analysis. More than any other book I've read about gifted students, Cradles of Eminence sparks a great desire to dialogue, argue, discuss, ponder and reflect -- not only about how we are nurturing young people, but about the definition of eminence and what it is like to be eminent. I sincerely look forward to the publication and the ensuing dialogue that I hope will occur . . . at the dinner table, in the teacher's lounge, at faculty round tables and at conferences across the country.

Thank you to Great Potential Press for bringing back a classic!


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