A revelatory revisionist biography of Alexander Graham Bell — renowned inventor of the telephone and hated enemy of the Deaf community.
When Alexander Graham Bell first unveiled his telephone to the world, it was considered miraculous. But few people know that it was inspired by another supposed miracle: his work teaching the deaf to speak. The son of one deaf woman and husband to another, he was motivated by a desire to empower deaf people by integrating them into the hearing world, but he ended up becoming their most powerful enemy, waging a war against Sign Language and Deaf culture that still rages today.
The Invention of Miracles tells the dual stories of Bell’s remarkable, world-changing invention and his dangerous ethnocide of Deaf culture and language. It also charts the rise of Deaf activism and tells the triumphant tale of a community reclaiming a once-forbidden language.
Inspired by her mixed hearing/Deaf family, Katie Booth has researched this story for over a decade, poring over Bell’s papers, Library of Congress archives, and the records of deaf schools around America. Witnessing the damaging impact of Bell’s legacy on her family set her on a path that upturned everything she thought she knew about language, power, deafness, and technology.
‘Booth examines some of our society’s root causes of ableism, and the hearing world’s discrimination against D/deaf people, by giving us a testimony of her Deaf grandmother and linking the discrimination she suffered to the history of Alexander Graham Bell and the propaganda of his oralist teachings, much of which still harms many Deaf and non-verbal people to this day. The Invention of Miracles is a powerful revisionist text, at once personal, historical, and insightful. As someone born deaf with hearing parents, I think I would have benefitted from being born into a world where ableist attitudes were rooted out and understood the way Booth demonstrates here.’
Raymond Antrobus, author of The Perseverance
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‘Fascinating. The Invention of Miracles tells the story of how Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone was intertwined with his sincere but misguided passion for teaching the deaf how to speak. It’s a tale of great love, brilliant innovation, personal drama, and the unintended consequences of good intentions.’
Walter Isaacson, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs
‘A provocative, sensitive, beautifully written biography of an American genius.’
Sylvia Nasar, #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Beautiful Mind
‘Booth does a masterful job weaving this powerful and compelling story, a narrative about fear and obsessive fascination with difference in this wonderful book.’
Brian Greenwald, professor of history at Gallaudet University & co-editor of In Our Own Hands: Essays in Deaf History 1780 – 1970
‘Meticulously researched, crackling with insights, and rich in novelistic detail, The Invention of Miracles is more than the revelatory biography of an inventor who transformed the world. By shining a bright light on society’s assumptions about disability, Booth’s book is a profound and lyrical meditation on what it means to be human.’
Steve Silberman, author of NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
‘Researched and written through the Deaf perspective, Katie Booth’s The Invention of Miracles is a compelling biography of Alexander Graham Bell, whose lifelong devotion to Deaf education became overshadowed by his harmful promotion of oralism and left a legacy of bruised hands through generations of Deaf people. This is marvellously engaging history that will have us rethinking the invention of the telephone.’
Jaipreet Virdi, historian and author of Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History
‘Through The Invention of Miracles Katie Booth has introduced me to a whole new world, not just literally but conceptually. In her sympathetic but critical biography of Alexander Graham Bell, she explores the history of power and voice, she exposes the tyranny of the “normal”, and she demonstrates the importance of listening not just speaking. A scholarly and lively biography revealing how a man who spent a life devoted to “liberating” deaf people ended up as one of their greatest enemies.’
Mary Hoban, author of An Unconventional Wife
‘A meticulously researched and beautifully told story about the power of language and culture and the costs of scientific single-mindedness.’
Gina Perry, author of The Lost Boys
‘An urgent, provocative, and powerful book. I could never have imagined that eugenics and the telephone were so intimately related. The Invention of Miracles is a timely reminder of the flawed humanity that lies behind so much of our technological innovation.’
Michael Brooks, author of The Quantum Astrologer’s Handbook