Beginnings Essay - Critical Context

Gwendolyn Reed

Critical Context

One advantage of a collective biography is that readers can select what entries they read according to their own interests. Beginnings offers variety in time, place, and individual depicted—a distinct advantage for attracting a number of readers. The book provides insight into Cellini’s Italy during the 1500’s, into Kazin’s Jewish America in the 1900’s, into slavery in Tanner’s captivity, and into Clemen’s United States. The readers can learn of Hutton’s life as a child laborer or Kropotkin’s life as a prince among serfs. The portrayal of life during other times in the United States, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Ireland, and Russia creates opportunities for comparisons and research. Because of the brevity of the treatment, which offers only twelve to thirty-one pages for each subject, readers can quickly obtain a sense of the essence of each man’s life. Consequently, further research may be directed toward additional works on the person, the country, or the historical period.

The appeal of Reed’s collection to young readers is a result of the focus on the childhood of the individual in each autobiographical sketch. As a result, adolescents are more likely to identify with them as human beings as circumstances forge them into successful members of society. Readers can draw their own conclusions about what factors lead to success. Beginnings is rich in its potential for promoting understanding and further research, as the topics of abuse, poverty, education, family relationships, political situations, and coping with difficulties are all present in this biographical collection.