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Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude by Robert V. Bruce (216,000 words, 86 illustrations)

A prominent public personality, Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922), inventor of the telephone, teacher of the deaf, phonetician, showman and sage, was also a very private individual. With unrestricted access to Bell’s vast personal files, Robert V. Bruce takes the proper measure of Bell the man in this biography, which portrays Bell as intense, curious, struggling to overcome his very real limitations as a scientist and the negative effects of early fame (he invented the telephone while still in his 20s) and sheds light on 19th- and 20th-century technology and on Bell’s inventions, including tetrahedral construction, the bullet probe, the “vacuum jacket” (a precursor of the iron lung) and the telephone. Bruce also explores Bell’s research and experiments on the airplane, the phonograph and the hydrofoil, and offers detailed information about the long and dramatic battle waged by Bell and his backers to establish the legitimacy of their claims on the basic telephone patents.

Bruce illuminates the field which Bell considered his foremost vocation, the teaching of the deaf, describing Bell’s friendship with Helen Keller, his marriage to a deaf girl to whom he had given lessons in speech, and his funding of
The Volta Review, a journal concerned with the deaf and hard of hearing still in existence — like Bell’s other magazines, Science and National Geographic.

Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude was a finalist for the 1974 National Book Award in biography.


“Both a lucid picture of an extraordinary scientific career and an engaging account of a remarkable man... Professor Bruce doesn’t scant the astonishing variety of Bell’s interests and accomplishments, which ranged all the way from supporting important scientific periodicals... to teaching the deaf to speak and fighting for their right to do so... to inventing everything he could imagine... At the same time, he has given us an extremely candid personal picture of this titan of American technology.” — Christopher Lehmann-Haupt,
New York Times

“The first full-scale life based on the voluminous Bell papers. It is an absorbing story... The technical trials and errors, Bell’s almost naive persistence, the actual components he worked with, are all attentively documented by Professor Bruce. We are, as well, given a vivid picture of the human environment out of which the telephone emerged, as one individual after another, each of immense importance to Bell, sought to advise, encourage, deter, rectify his failings or even defeat him... It is [in Bruce’s] account of Bell’s life after the telephone... that the man himself emerges... It becomes, as the author writes, a study not of long adversity culminating in a final crescendo of triumph, the usual pattern for heroic tales, but of a long personal struggle against the deadening handicap of early fame... As it turns out, Bell’s post-telephone days, from 1876 to August, 1922, when he died at age 75, were in many ways his best.” — David McCullough,
New York Times Book Review

“The brilliant Scottish immigrant’s story is more complicated, and more fascinating, than his myth. This authoritative, scientifically informed biography vividly portrays a man who, unlike his single-minded contemporary Thomas Edison, was a divided genius.” —
Newsweek

“Until now, Alexander Graham Bell has been eclipsed by that invention which so changed communication that it is among the few which can genuinely be called revolutionary. Here he emerges not as a myth but as a man.” —
Los Angeles Times

“Bruce has written the first fully documented biography of Alexander Graham Bell... a lengthy portrayal of a man gifted with intelligence, imagination, and energy pursuing a wide range of interests... It seems likely that Bruce’s narrative account of Bell’s invention of the telephone — with its shadings and emphasis — will be the definitive one.” — Thomas Parker Hughes,
Science

“The result of a decade of study with the blessing and help of Bell’s descendants, this is undoubtedly the most comprehensive and handsomely researched biography of Bell since C. D. MacKenzie’s 1928 work... Throughout the enormous detail of this biography, Bell’s restless intellectual energy and breakthrough fever emerge. A gargantuan work — sure to be a basic reference for both future admirers and detractors.” —
Kirkus Reviews

“Robert V. Bruce has written an admirable and much needed biography of Alexander Graham Bell... Based on the vast collection of Bell’s papers held at the National Geographic Society in Washington and exhaustively supplemented by other sources, it is the first full-scale biography of the man whose invention changed the world.” — Patrick O’Dowd, Isis

“A definitive biography of [Alexander Graham Bell]... From [the] mass of source material available to him, Bruce has skillfully and faithfully extricated a genuine personality and has forced Bell off the pedestal to which his own contemporaries had assigned him.” — Joseph Frazier Wall,
Business History Review

“[A] carefully researched biography... from family correspondence especially Bruce has distilled skillfully the dreams, the disappointments, and the foibles of a determined inventor in his moments of triumph and distress... the author’s assertive style, brightened by flashes of wry humor, and frequent sketches reproduced from Bell’s lab notebooks help make this in depth analysis of a notable American inventor profitable reading.” — Hugo A. Meier,
Journal of American History