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American Childhood

A Photographic History



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About The Book

A remarkable collection of over 200 stunning photographs of children—from the Civil War era to the present—that captures the ever-changing experience of childhood throughout American history.

Did Americans “invent” childhood? Author Todd Brewster believes we did, or at least childhood as “a period of life cordoned off from that of full maturity, covered with a veil of protection, and subject to a program of nurture.” That’s the inspiration behind this rich, compelling volume of rarely seen historical images drawn from the photography collections at the Library of Congress, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library, and the Magnum Photo Agency as well as dozens of other archives, flea markets, and antique shops.

The result is a carefully curated paean to American youth: 200-plus photos from all parts of American history, joined by a series of deeply insightful essays on the topic of the American child.

American Childhood reveals American children of all types: white, Black, gay, straight, poor, middle-class, upper class, in cities, on farms, at work, at play, lost in reverie, posing for the camera, or captured in their innocence as the lens gazes at them from afar. Some of them would go on to fame: A young Mark Twain is here. So is a juvenile Thomas Edison, Shirley Temple, Lady Gaga, Sammy Davis Jr., Truman Capote, and dozens of others. Can you see the spark of genius in the life of a child? Brewster thinks so. Still, most subjects here are unknown; in many cases a photograph may be the only public trace they have left behind.

Both a powerful study of American childhood and a beautiful gallery of extraordinary photography, American Childhood is a terrific addition to an under-appreciated part of American history.

About The Author

Phil Garlington

Todd Brewster is a veteran journalist and historian who has worked as an editor for Time and Life and as a senior producer for ABC News. He is the coauthor, with Peter Jennings, of the #1 New York Times bestselling book, The Century, which spent nearly a year on the bestseller list, the author of the acclaimed Lincoln’s Gamble, and coauthor, with Marc Lamont Hill, of Seen and Unseen; Technology, Social Media, and the Fight for Racial Justice. Brewster was the founding director of Center for Oral History at West Point and the executive producer of Into Harm’s Way, an award-winning documentary about the West Point Class of 1967. He has taught journalism at Cooper Union, Temple University, and Mount Holyoke College. A native of Indianapolis, Brewster now lives in Connecticut.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Scribner (May 23, 2023)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501124884

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Raves and Reviews

"From the 19th century to the present, the photos collected in Todd Brewster’s latest book offer glimpses into the lives of our nation’s youngest members." —New York Times Book Review

"In his 1802 poem (chauvinistically wedded to only one gender) Wordsworth wrote, 'The Child is father of the Man.' One sees all of this and more in Brewster's stirring book. It celebrates—in every image and comment—potentiality and hope." —Ken Burns, filmmaker and author of Our America: A Photographic History

"Fantastic. . . . Captures the ever-changing experience of growing up in America through a collection of over 200 photographs." —George Stephanopoulos

“A photographic celebration of American childhood . . . [offers] captivating glimpses of children’s lives . . . like paging through an album from a sprawling, blended family.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Visually enchanting, offering glimpses into the passion, play, banality, and trauma of childhood.” —Booklist

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More books from this author: Todd Brewster