Lewis has written a biography of perhaps the best-known early African-American scientist. The author’s approach to Banneker’s life should appeal to many young readers for several reasons. The book is well written and easy to read, and the author seems to respect and admire Banneker because of his intellectual abilities. Lewis sees Banneker as a young African American whose abilities and genius allowed him to achieve certain successes despite the racism that was very real in his world. For example, Banneker entered the little Quaker school. He could already read and was a good student whose admission and attendance at the school occurred without incident. One assumes that the schoolmaster was impressed and admired young Banneker because of his intellect.
As a young man, Banneker was able to construct a working wooden clock based on a watch that he had examined. His reputation as a clock maker and repairer spread, and he was able to earn money repairing clocks in the homes of some of the most prominent people in his area. These people, who were planters according to Lewis’ study, allowed him to work on valuable clocks even though he was African American. One assumes that they were persuaded of his competency at a time when the majority of African Americans were slaves.
Banneker’s relationship with the Ellicott family was apparently based on their respect and admiration for his abilities. Ellicott hired him to construct his mill. Members of the family allowed him to use their books dealing with mathematics, and they became impressed with his interest in and knowledge of astronomy. Later, Banneker accompanied Major Ellicott to Washington when the federal...
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Lewis’ study of Banneker should be required juvenile reading because it deals with a prominent early American scientist who happened to be African American. The book acquaints the reader with an individual who is perhaps one of the best-known African Americans from the early period of American history. Lewis’ ability to weave historical lessons into his narrative is one strong point of his work, making his study a good historical biography that could be assigned for supplementary reading in American history classes.
The only real weakness of this work is perhaps the author’s choice of a subtitle. The Man Who Saved Washington suggests that Banneker played some vital role in saving the federal city. Some others who have studied Banneker, however, such as Silvio Bedini of the Smithsonian Institution, have suggested that Banneker simply accompanied Major Ellicott to Washington, D.C., when the major was appointed to the team surveying the federal city. Banneker himself, based on the available documentation, was not appointed to the commission or survey team and simply assisted Ellicott.