Burlingame obviously intends to involve his young readers in his own admiration for Bell’s genius, generosity, and grit. Writing in the first person plural as “us” or “we” (such as “let us go back,” “we shall learn,” and “into our homes”) or ad-dressing readers directly as “you,” Burlingame establishes himself from the beginning as an active, participatory, and sometimes intrusive narrator. He makes frequent use of rhetorical questions (“But why the horn antennas on the ground?”), which he promptly and sometimes simplistically answers. Obiter dicta (such as “for that is the way of war” and “The question ‘Who did it first’ over which so much fuss had been made, is a silly question except in the Patent Office”) occur throughout the narrative; the book ends with the hope that “you, who have read this book,” will tell others about Bell’s work with the deaf.
Although perhaps irritating to adults, Burlingame’s intimate tone should appeal to younger readers, especially those already interested in science. Young readers should also appreciate the author’s careful but simple descriptions of Bell’s discoveries, knowledge, and research, with unfamiliar terms simply defined in the text. Burlingame of necessity covers a broad range of topics: how an electromagnet functions, how electricity works, how the bones in the human ear transmit sound, how electrical pulses can be carried over a wire, how a deaf-mute can be...
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Out of Silence into Sound would fit better into a science, history, or social studies class than into a literature class. The numerous anecdotes hold the interest of young adult readers, but the frequent excursions into social history mar the flow of the narrative. Burlingame’s admiration for AT&T, and his too-detailed descriptions of its tribulations and triumphs, indicates his capitalistic bent and respect for patent rights but also occasionally resembles a series of commercials for the Bell System.
Despite the excellent illustrations and clear descriptions of scientific terms and processes, Burlingame’s attitude toward his topic is extremely subjective. Even chapter titles—“New Inventions and New Battles,” “Happy Old Age,” and “Fishing in Waters of the Unknown”—reveal Burlingame’s hero worship, a near fairy-tale ambience, and a good-guys-versus-bad-guys mind-set: Scientists, boldly arrayed against patent pirates and other scofflaws, invariably triumph. While it contains a verifiable happy ending, this biography does not represent the typical inventor’s life and experiences, nor does it sufficiently detail the grueling work that accompanies any successful invention. It does, however, prove that one can fight bureaucracy and win.