Dr. Seuss might just be one of the most beloved children’s authors of our time. Growing up, I distinctly remember Green Eggs and Ham, The Butter Battle Book, and my personal favorite for some inexplicable reason, Scrambled Eggs Super!. It’s always been easy to glibly jibe about the relative ease of Seuss’s job (“just make up words when you can’t rhyme anything else”) but of course the man was an immensely talented crafter of stories that will remain popular long after his death.
Though he never made any particular secret of his life, digging into the history of sometime who was known more by his pen name than real name is always a bit of an adventure. It’s almost strange to thing of a revered figure like Seuss being a young boy or a petulant college student.
Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel is a dense, thorough affair, which I admit takes some of the charm away from Seuss. However, it is ultimately interesting to watch him go from a doodling college student to a successful children’s author. He took the pen name “Seuss” when he incurred the wrath of Dartmouth administrators after holding a drinking party during Prohibition. He met his wife, Helen, at Oxford, where he was pursuing a PhD in literature without any enthusiasm. Initially, he wrote jokes and cartoons for national publications, as well as doing commercials advertisements for companies like General Electric.
It was after World War II that Seuss began writing some of his most famous material. The Cat in the Hat came about as a sneaky sort of grammar for schoolchildren. From there on out, Seuss did two different styles of books: simpler “Beginner Books” for young children, and more complicated pieces for older children.
I won’t list the man’s whole life, of course: if you’re interested in it—and you should be really interested if you read this book—go ahead and read Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel. If you aren’t, maybe reading his Wikipedia entry would suffice, and you can spend the rest of the afternoon reading Oh, the Places You’ll Go!