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Reviews of After the Miracle by Max Wallace

After the Miracle

The Political Crusades of Helen Keller

by Max Wallace

After the Miracle by Max Wallace X
After the Miracle by Max Wallace
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2023, 416 pages

    Apr 2024, 368 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Katharine Blatchford
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About this Book

Book Summary

In this powerful new history, New York Times bestselling author Max Wallace draws on groundbreaking research to reframe Helen Keller's journey after the miracle at the water pump, vividly bringing to light her rarely discussed, lifelong fight for social justice across gender, class, race, and ability.

Raised in Alabama, she sent shockwaves through the South when she launched a public broadside against Jim Crow and donated to the NAACP. She used her fame to oppose American intervention in WWI. She spoke out against Hitler the month he took power in 1933 and embraced the anti-fascist cause during the Spanish Civil War. She was one of the first public figures to alert the world to the evils of Apartheid, raising money to defend Nelson Mandela when he faced the death penalty for High Treason, and she lambasted Joseph McCarthy at the height of the Cold War, even as her contemporaries shied away from his notorious witch hunt. But who was this revolutionary figure?

She was Helen Keller.

From books to movies to Barbie dolls, most mainstream portrayals of Keller focus heavily on her struggles as a deafblind child—portraying her Teacher, Annie Sullivan, as a miracle worker. This narrative—which has often made Keller a secondary character in her own story—has resulted in few people knowing that her greatest accomplishment was not learning to speak, but what she did with her voice when she found it.

After the Miracle is a much-needed corrective to this antiquated narrative. In this first major biography of Keller in decades, Max Wallace reveals that the lionization of Sullivan at the expense of her famous pupil was no accident, and calls attention to Keller's efforts as a card-carrying socialist, fierce anti-racist, and progressive disability advocate. Despite being raised in an era when eugenics and discrimination were commonplace, Keller consistently challenged the media for its ableist coverage and was one of the first activists to highlight the links between disability and capitalism, even as she struggled against the expectations and prejudices of those closest to her.

Peeling back the curtain that obscured Keller's political crusades in favor of her "inspirational" childhood, After the Miracle chronicles the complete legacy of one of the 20th century's most extraordinary figures.

Chapter One
Before the Miracle

She was among the most celebrated women of her generation. Newspapers and magazines throughout the world heralded the accomplishments of the remarkable girl who — afflicted by a terrible disease as an infant — was said to have been trapped in a void of darkness and despair before an extraordinary teacher single-handedly accomplished the impossible: taught the girl to communicate by spelling into her hand. Soon, she was reading and writing and, before long, had even mastered philosophy, history, literature, and mathematics. After the world's most famous writer publicized her story, she was inundated with letters from around the globe thanking her for humanizing people with disabilities. Until then, many assumed that people with her condition — "deaf, dumb, and blind" — were barely human. Now, celebrities flocked to meet her, and children everywhere knew her name.

But this was not Helen Keller. A half century before Helen came...

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The book covers a wide swath of history for a single lifetime—from Jim Crow to apartheid, World War I to McCarthy's Red Scare, Helen Keller used her fame to fight for what she believed in. Wallace's writing is nuanced, neither diminishing her accomplishments nor overlooking her missteps, but instead returning Keller to the center of her own life story. After the Miracle is a portrait not of a saint or a miracle, but a woman with strong convictions living in a complicated world. I would highly recommend it for readers interested in civil rights and disability advocacy, or in 20th-century history more generally...continued

Full Review Members Only (695 words)

(Reviewed by Katharine Blatchford).

Media Reviews

Christian Science Monitor
[A] fascinating biography.

Wall Street Journal
Wallace rebalances the portrait with this deeply researched book. He repeatedly shows how ableist prejudices as well as political distaste suppressed Keller's voice.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
A fresh look at an international icon, offering new perspectives on her life and work...compelling.

There is much more to the life stories of Keller and Sullivan than the limited, if inspirational narrative of the movie, as Wallace's superb biographical chronicle makes clear ... [After the Miracle] paint[s] a more complete picture of the imperfect humanity behind the inspirational narrative. [Wallace] shows that just because saints have feet of clay, that doesn't make them less saintly.

Publishers Weekly
Meticulous research and the author's nuanced perspective make enlightening study of Keller's fierce commitment to justice.

Author Blurb Haben Girma, disability justice advocate and author of Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law
A riveting series of adventures with Helen Keller, from befriending Charlie Chaplin in Hollywood to calling out apartheid in South Africa. Helen's delightful wit and fierce dedication to advocating for underrepresented people makes her a timeless role model.

Author Blurb Liz Heinecke, author of Radiant: The Dancer, The Scientist, and a Friendship Forged in Light
Max Wallace's impeccably researched book lays out a fascinating epilogue to the familiar story of a blind-deaf girl at a water pump. After the Miracle paints a compelling portrait of a complicated, revolutionary woman who spent a lifetime advocating for peace and equal rights despite powerful forces pressuring her to adhere to the simplistic persona they had created.

Author Blurb Rosemary Sullivan, New York Times bestselling author of The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation
Wallace strips away the sentimental image of Helen Keller and reveals an astonishing woman who lectured, traveled, wrote books, and loved movies. A friend of Charlie Chaplin and of Martin Luther King, she was a radical and passionate political activist taking stands against war, racism, and inequality that brought her to the attention of Hoover and his FBI. Following Keller's life, Wallace offers a bonus: a stunning overview of the brutal politics of the 20th century. I enjoyed the book very much.

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Beyond the Book

The Founding of the ACLU

ACLU logo featuring Statue of LibertyIn Max Wallace's absorbing biography of Helen Keller, After the Miracle, the author illuminates Keller's often overlooked dedication to the fight for civil rights. Through her lifetime, she was involved with a wide number of causes and organizations, from joining the Socialist Party to campaigning against U.S. involvement in World War I, to speaking out against apartheid. One of the ways she has left a lasting legacy is as a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The start of what would become the ACLU grew out of concerns about U.S. involvement in World War I, and how it was affecting American society. In 1915, a group of pacifists in New York City founded the Anti-Militarism Committee, which would go by multiple...

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