The actual life of the man that we know as Dr. Seuss was at least as interesting as anything ever concocted in his books. Born Theodore Geisel to a German immigrant brewer (and madcap inventor), he came of age in Springfield, Massachusetts, at a time when sentiments against immigrants, and Germans especially, were running high. The advent of Prohibition was jeopardizing the family’s resources at about the same time that he was starting college at Dartmouth. Snubbed by the fraternities, he set his sights on editing the campus humor magazine and became a college celebrity. In the process he formed friendships that would later serve him to advantage. He blundered his way into Oxford, met his first wife and hung out with the smart set of American expatriates in France in 1926.
What follows is an unimaginably charmed life. A cartoon published in a magazine which mentioned a certain brand of bug spray was spotted by the company owner’s wife at her hairdresser’s, leading to a lucrative 17-year advertising gig for Geisel. His first break into the book world came when he was asked to provide illustrations for a British collection of children’s sayings set to be published in America. His first solo book (Mulberry Street) had a painful six-month birthing in 1936 and was rejected by twenty-seven publishers. Geisel eventually published, but acclaim was slow in coming. During World War II, he landed in the Naval Intelligence unit working under Frank Capra. Soon he was writing scripts for military training films in Hollywood and meeting everybody who was anybody.
In 1957, The Cat In the Hat appeared with relatively little fanfare. (Geisel was already 53 by this point.) As teachers and librarians began denouncing his subversive influence, a generation of children were discovering a new way of learning to read. Geisel went on to champion the rights of children at a time before people seemed to know that they had any. He was by turns elusive, mischievous, private, social, reclusive, playful and eclectic. This book goes into enormous depth, utilizing full access to the Geisel archives. It is the sort of story that is so rich in detail and coincidence, luck and timing that were it fiction, it would seem utterly implausible.
Publisher: Random House
Hardback: 352 pages