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The Invention of Miracles

Language, Power, and Alexander Graham Bell's Quest to End Deafness

An astonishingly revisionist biography of Alexander Graham Bell, telling the true—and troubling—story of the inventor of the telephone.

We think of Alexander Graham Bell as the inventor of the telephone, but that’s not how he saw his own career. Bell was an elocution teacher by profession. As the son of a deaf woman and, later, husband to another, his goal in life from adolescence was to teach the deaf to speak. Even his tinkering sprang from his teaching work; the telephone had its origins as a speech reading machine. And yet by the end of his life, despite his best efforts—or perhaps, more accurately, because of them—Bell had become the American Deaf community’s most powerful enemy.

The Invention of Miracles recounts an extraordinary piece of forgotten history. Weaving together a moving love story with a fascinating tale of innovation, it follows the complicated tragedy of a brilliant young man who set about stamping out what he saw as a dangerous language: Sign. The book offers a heartbreaking look at how heroes can become villains and how good intentions are, unfortunately, nowhere near enough—as well as a powerful account of the dawn of a civil rights movement and the triumphant tale of how the Deaf community reclaimed their once-forbidden language.

Katie Booth has been researching this story for over a decade, poring over Bell’s papers, Library of Congress archives, and the records of deaf schools around America. But she’s also lived with this story for her entire life. Witnessing the damaging impact of Bell’s legacy on her family would set her on a path that upturned everything she thought she knew about language, power, deafness, and the telephone.

Katie Booth teaches writing at the University of Pittsburgh. Her work has appeared in The BelieverAeonCatapult, and Harper’s Magazine, and has been highlighted on Longreads and Longform; “The Sign for This” was a notable essay in the 2016 edition of Best American Essays. Booth received a number of prestigious fellowships to support the research for The Invention of Miracles, including from the Library of Congress and the Massachusetts Historical Society. She was raised bilingually and biculturally in a mixed hearing/Deaf family.

“A fascinating tale of great love, innovation, personal drama, and the unexpected consequences of good intentions.”
— Walter Isaacson, New York Times bestselling author of Steve Jobs

“A provocative, sensitive, beautifully written biography of an American genius.”
— Sylvia Nasar, New York Times bestselling author of A Beautiful Mind

“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, New York Times bestselling author of NeuroTribes

“Refreshingly candid. Booth does a masterful job weaving this powerful and compelling story about fear and obsessive fascination with difference.”
— Brian Greenwald, PhD, professor of history at Gallaudet University

“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

“Researched and written through the Deaf perspective, this marvelously engaging history will have us rethinking the invention of the telephone.”
— Jaipreet Virdi, PhD, author of Hearing Happiness: Deafness Cures in History 

“Impassioned and scrupulously researched… Enriched with vivid sketches of Bell’s wife, Mabel Hubbard, and other historical figures, including Helen Keller, this revelatory history deserves a wide readership.” 
— Publishers Weekly

“Ardent… [This] well-written biography reveals less-familiar aspects of the life of the famed inventor.”
—  Kirkus Reviews