Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

Tough argues that crucial components of the character ethic (e.g., grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control) can allow students, even those in depressed circumstances, to overcome their grave environmental obstacles. On one hand, his thesis is a welcome antidote to those academic psychologists who emphasize purely cognitive abilities (e.g., IQ and SAT scores). On the other hand, Tough's stance still places a heavy burden on individual students with scant resources and social capital. Tough is rather silent on concrete assistance of a communitarian nature required to build safety nets for those in poverty. Character does count, but it needs muscular societal nurture to help it thrive. Tough fails to fully acknowledge the kind of political commitment and action that would be necessary. His book is quite inspirational when it speaks of certain personal stories of accomplishment; at other times, it seems to ask too much of those who can be seen as society's guiltless victims. Summing Up: Optional. General readers; undergraduate students, all levels; professionals. J. L. DeVitis Old Dominion University

Publishers Weekly
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This American Life contributor Tough (Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America) tackles new theories on childhood education with a compelling style that weaves in personal details about his own child and childhood. Personal narratives of administrators, teachers, students, single mothers, and scientists lend support to the extensive scientific studies Tough uses to discuss a new, character-based learning approach. While traditional education relies heavily on memorization, new research conducted by James Heckman suggests that the conventional wisdom represented by those third-grade multiplication tables has failed some of our most vulnerable students. Tough takes the reader through experiments that studied childhood nurture, or attachment theory, to report cards that featured character strength assessments (measuring "grit," gratitude, optimism, curiosity, self-control, zest, and social intelligence). Focused on schools in Chicago and New York, Tough explores the effects of racial and socioeconomic divides through the narratives of survivors of an outdated system. The ultimate lesson of Tough's quest to explain a new wave of educational theories is that character strengths make up perhaps the single most compelling element of a child's education, and these traits are rooted deep within the chemistry of the brain. Tough believes that it is society's responsibility to provide those transformative experiences that will create its most productive future members. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick & Williams. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Debunking the conventional wisdom of the past few decades that disadvantaged children need to develop basic reading and counting skills before entering school, Tough argues that they would be better served by learning such skills as grit, conscientiousness, curiosity, and optimism. It boils down to a debate about precognitive versus noncognitive skills of self-regulation or, simply put, character. Tough (Whatever It Takes, 2008) spent two years interviewing students, teachers, and administrators at failing public schools, alternative programs, charter schools, elite schools, and a variety of after-school programs. He also interviewed psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists and examined the latest research on character education beyond the bromides of the Left and Right to discover what actually works in teaching children skills that will aid them in school and in life, whatever the circumstances of their childhoods. Most compelling are Tough's portraits of adolescents from backgrounds rife with poverty, violence, drug-addicted parents, sexual abuse, and failing schools, who manage to gain skills that help them overcome their adversities and go on to college. Tough ultimately argues in favor of research indicating that these important skills can be learned and children's lives saved. A very hopeful look at promising new research on education.--Bush, Vanessa Copyright 2010 Booklist