In the foreword of Beginnings, Reed states that she selected the men for their “variety of temperament, character, interests, circumstances, and experiences,” including those outside the mainstream of famous persons as well as those who shaped history. She considers as their common trait the fact that they all wrote of their beginnings seriously and honestly. As a result, they can provide insight into human nature and the human experience, showing how beginnings and circumstances can shape lives and how setbacks can be overcome and disadvantages turned into assets.

As indicated by Reed, all of her subjects had the advantage of sufficient maturity to reflect upon and write about their childhoods. All of their own writings are extracts from their autobiographies, except for those of Coleridge and Montaigne. Coleridge’s passages came from letters to his friend Thomas Poole, and Montaigne’s excerpt was extracted from his essays as prepared by Marvin Lowenthal for The Autobiography of Michel de Montaigne. Because Tanner could not write in the English language, his account of his childhood was told to a narrator. Reed provides titles and dates of all of her sources, and she points out where autobiographical accounts might vary from other sources. For example, she indicates that Andersen was indeed able to focus on the happier incidents of his childhood rather than its bleak unhappiness, which is emphasized in his writings.

Reed’s reports concerning the fate of each individual indicate the achievements of these men and complete the stories of their...

(The entire section is 652 words.)