After setting out to translate and publish the letters of Louis Braille (1809-52) that were held by the Institut National de Jeunes Aveugles in Paris, Mellor (editor, Matilda Ziegler Magazine for the Blind) found his project taking on a life of its own. What was intended to be a small pamphlet became this richly illustrated and lovingly crafted book. In his preface, Mellor admits that he did not aim to offer any tantalizing revelations about Braille's life or character but rather to allow Braille's words to paint their own picture of his challenging existence, his fragile health, and his devotion to bettering the lives of blind people worldwide through reading and communicating by tactile notation. The result is an admittedly adoring biography, a nice coffee-table book, which some might harshly judge as an overly sentimental representation of a mortal, certainly flawed man. However, after finishing the book, one is hard-pressed not to join Mellor heartily in his reverent adoration of Braille's brilliance, compassion, and determination, which resulted in a code used in nearly every country and adapted to music, mathematics, and almost every known language. Recommended for public and school libraries.
Thoroughly researched and charming, this coffee-table book is overstuffed with pictures, letters and every type of Louis Braille memorabilia available. Unabashedly admiring, the author acknowledges his goal is not to write a "pathography" of Braille, and indeed, readers will find none of Braille's hidden vices (nor any hints of their presence) to enliven this life story. But Braille's life in the middle of the 19th century provides a rich story: a man who, blinded during boyhood, devoted himself to teaching other blind people better ways of negotiating their world. In addition to devising the raised-dot alphabet, Braille also set up a system for musical notation and built printing machines for his alphabets. The writing here is straightforward and suits the reverential tone of the text, which incorporates photo-reproductions of Braille's correspondences (both dictated and those he printed using his printing techniques) and provides a brief history of the contentious debate over standardizing the Braille system. If the tone seems boosterish the book accomplishes its aims - to highlight the goodliness and inventiveness of a man who transformed the lives of blind people worldwide.
Deborah Kendrick's review in The Braille Monitor
As I read of blind people begging and in poverty, of little blind children astonishing sighted audiences with their brightness and newfound literacy, of this remarkable genius himself relentlessly perfecting his code that is the foundation of everything I do, I am struck with wonder, gratitude, and something else. We need to know this man, memorize his story, have his name on our tongues, and bring his name and our literacy into the foreground of mainstream recognition. Michael Mellor has written a good book about a great man--and because that man is Louis Braille, we should be putting copies into the hands of every blind and sighted person we know. We should spread his story because we know who we are.
Read the full review here.
Paula Kimbrough's review in Future Reflections
How's this for a great story? A blind teenager from a farm village family, away at school, devises a code that revolutionizes communication for other blind people. The school is harsh, its location toxic, and its leaders often self-absorbed. Only other students and an occasional administrator even comprehend the magnitude of what the boy has done. The boy grows up to become a teacher at the school himself, but the conditions there destroy his health, killing him in his early forties. The code the boy invented nonetheless spreads around the world. Nearly 200 years later, the boy's name is a household word... At last, Louis Braille's world comes to life with a richness that is entirely new.
Read the full review here.
"I purchased a copy of the Braille book and I think it is a great and unusual masterpiece.
"What impresses me most is that it illustrates so much more than how Braille lettering enables the sightless to read and write and when and where Louis Braille was born and lived.
"There are the fascinating glimpses of French society before the French Revolution, effects of Revolution and then the Napoleonic empire and how the blind fared during those changing times. There are the timeless tales of educational institutions with financial struggles the character strengths and flaws of their leadership. And, of course, there is the startling model of Louis Braille showing what a sixteen year old blind youth can accomplish with imagination, creativity and a desire to help others to lead better lives.
"I think this is a wonderful book for teenagers and want to purchase several more copies to place in some school and public libraries."
- Bruce Ramsey
"I was away in Georgia at a Flannery O'Connor conference and chairing the O'Connor-Andalusia Foundation; the book was among my accumulated mail. I opened the mailer and put the book aside to catch up on myriad tasks. When my frustration with a computer problem forced a break I took up the book and haven't been able to lay it down.
"It is wonderful! So beautifully done and so full of informative text and illustrations. I learned much about the life and personality of Louis and the origins of braille - of which I only had an inkling - such as its military precursor and Braille's dot-matrix invention. Please convey my appreciation to Michael and all those who contributed to this most impressive document."
- Robert Mann, Whitaker Professor Emeritus, MIT
"In all our years in the field of education of the blind, we have never seen or reviewed such a well researched and informative book on the life and times of Louis Braille. It is a beautifully illustrated coffee-table book, worthy of pride of place in libraries, schools, homes and places of public information. It brings to light the little known facts of the genius of the blind Frenchman as never before. Yet it is more than just that, as it shows - in graphic form with illustrations, drawings, pictures and postage stamps - the journey of the blind from "darkness into light." Louis Braille in the 19th century gave the blind the only system by which they could and can become fully literate. Braille as Mellor clearly shows in detail, is far more than a system by which the blind and deafblind can read, it is also a universal system for writing in all languages.
"This book should be read by all professionals working in the field of disabilities, as well as by those from high school students up and the general public. It is a book for all both sighted and blind. It should be noted that this book was published at the same time both in print and Braille."
- Ken Stuckey Retired Research Librarian
Perkins School for the Blind, Watertown USA
- Gunilla Stenberg Stuckey Retired Director
Tomteboda Resource Centre, Stockholm Sweden
"You certainly have a hit on your hands with Louis Braille. I've already ordered several for friends, and plan to get more... I don't know when a book has given me this much pleasure, and I congratulate you folks on a fantastic job! Bravo, Mr. Mellor!"
- Warren Figueiredo
"Your book is beautiful... [It] is indeed valuable to society as well as a moving story to read. The descriptions in the braille version are vivid. Most people enjoy looking at pictures without understanding the scenes. When they see the girl on the bridge, they simply say, "It's a picture of a blind girl." But the descriptions in the braille book give us the full significance of her expression and how she is dressed... Louis Braille has been resurrected!"
- Jerrie Lawhorn
"I'm really astonished! It's fantastic! ... As a librarian in the field of visual impairment, and former graduate in history, I say: Thank you very much for your book; it's a fine contribution!"
- Evelio Montes, Research Librarian
"Friday my lovely copy of the print version of Louis Braille: A Touch of Genius arrived. I took it on Easter Sunday to our family gathering and had such fun as people went through the book, noticed pictures, read snippets of material, and appreciated with me the entire volume... I can't thank you enough for this wonderful experience."
- Winifred Downing
"It is lovely. A great addition to my professional library."
- Judy Schwartz
"As I read the pages, the genius of this man was uncovered. I am amazed by what he was able to accomplish at such a young age: making letters, numbers, and music available to the blind... After reading this book, literacy, for all, has a new meaning for me. The book is wonderful! You have done an exceptional job, and reading it has been fascinating and a great learning experience."
- M. Bladd
"Read the whole book, and loved it
- Diane Raeder