The editors, close friends, compiled the book as a result of insights acquired on a long train trip when they told anecdotes of their own experiences growing up. As they learned how different their youths had been, they began to understand the range of attitudes and differences in character and outlook that they had noted in one another. Finding the experience fascinating, the editors decided to compile a book that would be “not a studious collection” but “a sampler” of youthful experiences recounted in autobiographies of a wide range of Americans.
Deliberately choosing selections on the basis of the emotional impact and action level of the accounts, rather than on the fame of the subject, the editors succeeded in producing a collection that is very readable and entertaining. They have avoided frequently anthologized autobiographies such as Benjamin Franklin’s in favor of more obscure, but compelling accounts from some lesser-known lives. (Helen Keller and Mark Twain are represented, however; the book does not exclude more well known subjects.)
American history comes to life in these vividly written first-person accounts. The young fur trader, lost in the Michigan woods, gives a powerful and concrete sense of the conditions of life on the frontier and of the mutual respect between Native Americans and whites in his situation. Douglass’ account of his brutal treatment as a slave and writer Opie Read’s account of the divided...
(The entire section is 551 words.)