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Wild or feral children have fascinated us down the centuries, and continue to do so today. In a haunting and hugely readable study, Michael Newton deftly investigates a number of infamous cases. He looks at Peter the Wild Boy, who gripped the attention of Swift and Defoe, and at Victor of Aveyron who roamed the forests of revolutionary France. He tells the story of a savag Wild or feral children have fascinated us down the centuries, and continue to do so today. In a haunting and hugely readable study, Michael Newton deftly investigates a number of infamous cases. He looks at Peter the Wild Boy, who gripped the attention of Swift and Defoe, and at Victor of Aveyron who roamed the forests of revolutionary France. He tells the story of a savage girl lost on the streets of Paris; of two children brought up by wolves in the jungles of India; of a boy brought up among monkeys in Uganda; and in Moscow, of a child found living with a pack of wild dogs.


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Wild or feral children have fascinated us down the centuries, and continue to do so today. In a haunting and hugely readable study, Michael Newton deftly investigates a number of infamous cases. He looks at Peter the Wild Boy, who gripped the attention of Swift and Defoe, and at Victor of Aveyron who roamed the forests of revolutionary France. He tells the story of a savag Wild or feral children have fascinated us down the centuries, and continue to do so today. In a haunting and hugely readable study, Michael Newton deftly investigates a number of infamous cases. He looks at Peter the Wild Boy, who gripped the attention of Swift and Defoe, and at Victor of Aveyron who roamed the forests of revolutionary France. He tells the story of a savage girl lost on the streets of Paris; of two children brought up by wolves in the jungles of India; of a boy brought up among monkeys in Uganda; and in Moscow, of a child found living with a pack of wild dogs.

30 review for Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children

  1. 5 out of 5

    karen

    can anyone believe i finally finished this book?? i dont recommend it and im not even sure why. its just not very interesting, although it picks up a little at the end. how someone can mess up with this kind of source material is beyond me. his writing just made me want to keep drifting off....but its over now and i can read my fascinating cataloging book...

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

    Can I give this zero stars and have it still be a rating? Please, anyone? Does that work? What. The. Crap. Without my knowing, somehow I've become almost optimistic about the world. So this jerk's ranting on how weird these children were actually shocked me. It irritated me to no end. I expect too much of writers, I think... A habit I shall have to quickly burn out of myself. And guess what? I got so fed up that I stopped part of the way through. Firstly, he wouldn't shut up about his precious opini Can I give this zero stars and have it still be a rating? Please, anyone? Does that work? What. The. Crap. Without my knowing, somehow I've become almost optimistic about the world. So this jerk's ranting on how weird these children were actually shocked me. It irritated me to no end. I expect too much of writers, I think... A habit I shall have to quickly burn out of myself. And guess what? I got so fed up that I stopped part of the way through. Firstly, he wouldn't shut up about his precious opinion. Very little actual information was given. Two. He was REDUNDANT. As if the first time he said those stupid lines wasn't bad enough. Three. Bodies without souls...? REALLY? And acting like language is all that makes humans human? Oh, for the love of ANYTHING. Shut your trap and do something useful. I happen to actually see life, movement, the world's changing, and the worth of all of it. Dear Mike can go be blind on his own time without wasting mine. Four. This all stems from his immature like for... strange, 'savage' children. Oho. Too many stories from too many other jerks? Hm? Oh, just... countless little things really did tick me off. Can you tell? I clearly don't care to make any attempt to mask my hate. I went into this book hoping for some information on psycology, human kind, animal kind, how relationships work, or even just FACTS. Recieved instead a child's look at Tarzan. But wait- Tarzan was so much better, in the same way that children are apparently smarter than this guy. I get more insight from almost any of my 8 and under aged siblings.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Wealhtheow

    This book is ostensibly about feral children throughout the ages. In reality, Newton is so enthralled with the philosophical and psychological possibilities of the *idea* of humans raised outside of society that he only talks about four children. Even when he is supposedly telling these disenfranchised children's tales, he spends most of his pages on disecting the writers who wrote about them. Seriously, there are entire chapters about Swift and Defoe's family and life--and only a few pages on a This book is ostensibly about feral children throughout the ages. In reality, Newton is so enthralled with the philosophical and psychological possibilities of the *idea* of humans raised outside of society that he only talks about four children. Even when he is supposedly telling these disenfranchised children's tales, he spends most of his pages on disecting the writers who wrote about them. Seriously, there are entire chapters about Swift and Defoe's family and life--and only a few pages on a "wild boy". Very frustrating!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jennn

    I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from this book. After briefly skimming the jacket summary, I found out that it was about "savage" children, children that had grown up in the wilderness by animals or were cut off completely from the world, barely human, just becoming accustomed to the "civilized" world. Each chapter was dedicated to a wild child, ranging from as far back as the 1700's (Peter the Wild Boy) to as recent as the 1990's (Ivan Mishukov). The beginning was about the author and how h I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from this book. After briefly skimming the jacket summary, I found out that it was about "savage" children, children that had grown up in the wilderness by animals or were cut off completely from the world, barely human, just becoming accustomed to the "civilized" world. Each chapter was dedicated to a wild child, ranging from as far back as the 1700's (Peter the Wild Boy) to as recent as the 1990's (Ivan Mishukov). The beginning was about the author and how he had become interested in the subject and also diving into the psychological aspect of humans and animals and the relationship and how it was discussed in the era (did these children have souls? were they truly human? could they learn to be human after so long?). Psychological questions are sprinkled throughout and, for me, sometimes was an irritation (get back to the story!). However, in the end, it wrapped it up beautifully. It even made me cry (more about that later). The children Newton went into depth with were Peter the Wild Boy (1725), Memmie Le Blanc (1731), Victor of Aveyron (1797), Kaspar Hauser (early 1800s), Amala and Kamala (1920), and Genie (1970). The ones that really broke my heart were Memmie, Victor, Kaspar, and especially Genie. Each showed the desperate struggle to "civilize" each child and though some successes were made, in most stories, there is no huge triumph. There is no "Yes!" moment, no defining instant. Like the young Itard with Victor, trying again and again, getting such little development in him. Getting Victor to say "milk", being able to spell it even, but only after years of work, being able to connect the word with the thing. Itard, getting the recognition as a man of science and teaching, but never having the bond between the boy that he yearned for. And Victor never being able to really communicate with the world around him. Reading the book hurt because you can feel the swell of hope and the ultimate failure in each child. And not only failure to learn, but to grow. They left the isolation of the woods, only to remain isolated from their own kind, not being able to understand or be understood. Memmie being the only one mentioned to learn and change. And in changing, losing her speed and strength and zest, rearranging herself to fit into society, finally dying in poverty before ultimately fading into obscurity. Kaspar Hauser wasn't wild, but had supposedly (some speculate that he was a con artist, but I don't believe it) been locked away for thirteen years of his short (16 years) life, then being thrown into the world he never knew. For a while, he viewed life with such awe, overwhelmed by its beauty, before he was almost murdered, and then grew distant and bitter and lazy. And, unfortunately, only in the end to be murdered; dying for four days without knowing his killer or who he truly was. The worst of all was Genie, the child who was discovered in Los Angeles in the 70's. For her whole life (13 years), she had been chained to a pottychair or a sleepingbag. Food was shoved into her mouth (this is the only way she was fed), she was beaten and screamed at (and possibly sexually abused). She never knew how to walk correctly or even speak. After many foster homes and court cases to see where she belonged (her mother or the scientists or elsewhere), she ended up in bad foster homes where she was beaten into silence again. She is currently still alive and "lives in a sheltered accommodation" according to wikipedia, still in her silence. The two paragraphs that hit home were: (when Kasper Hauser was explaining how life was in the cell and, basically, it was: sleep, wake up, eat some bread, drink some water, feed his wooden horses and wooden dog, then decorate the horses in ribbons, then get hungry, get too hungry to play, sleep, find more food and water, and play with the wooden horses and ribbons again until he was too hungry - this was his life for thirteen years - then when he came out, he described it as this) Then one night, the man came and dressed Hauser in long trousers, boots, and a jacket. He then picked Hauser up and carried him out of the prison. It was the first time the boy had left his hole. Assaulted by the strange smells of the outside world, Hauser fainted, overwhelmed by the strangeness of all things. The man revived him and tried to teach the boy to walk. The next hours, or days, were confused in Hauser's mind: a nightmare journey of walking and pain, weeping and waking, and sleeping, and promises of new horses, and that he might too be a rider as his father had once been." - pg 137 Maybe I'm silly, but that filled me with such pity and sympathy. Can you imagine your whole life being those damned wooden horses and being content with something that simple, only then thrown into the outside world with the promises of more horses and other empty promises that you don't even realize? The other one was: "despite the ultimate loss in both stories, we feel that both children did indeed get the last word. For though Victor and Genie vanished - became invisible again - both left some unerasable trace of themselves as evidence against the small pointlessness of human unsuccess: a boy in the moonlight lost in his contemplative ecstasy; a curious girl awakened like a princess from a long sleep into a brightened world." pg 229 Good book. Sad, sad book. But good.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    The title and synopsis of this book is a bit misleading. Rather than a history of feral or 'wild' children, Savage Girls and Wild Boys is a history of those who come to sponsor some of these abandoned and abused children. I found more information about the actual children on the internet, but Newton does provide some interesting back story about the people who attempted to 'save' these children, and some good intellectual history, though lacking the kind of depth the subject needs. Some really h The title and synopsis of this book is a bit misleading. Rather than a history of feral or 'wild' children, Savage Girls and Wild Boys is a history of those who come to sponsor some of these abandoned and abused children. I found more information about the actual children on the internet, but Newton does provide some interesting back story about the people who attempted to 'save' these children, and some good intellectual history, though lacking the kind of depth the subject needs. Some really heartbreaking stories, even if it wasn't exactly what I was looking for.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    How he managed to make such a interesting subject so boring, I have no idea.

  7. 4 out of 5

    LibraryCin

    2.5 stars The title of this book is misleading. The author doesn’t focus all that much on the “feral” children. He discusses philosophy (what distinguishes human from animal?), linguistics, Greek mythology, wild children in literature (Tarzan, Mowgli), the people who worked with, “saved”, experimented on, etc. the children after they were found. It could have been a much better book if he’d simply focused on the children, themselves. It was pretty dry, at times. The last story was the most intere 2.5 stars The title of this book is misleading. The author doesn’t focus all that much on the “feral” children. He discusses philosophy (what distinguishes human from animal?), linguistics, Greek mythology, wild children in literature (Tarzan, Mowgli), the people who worked with, “saved”, experimented on, etc. the children after they were found. It could have been a much better book if he’d simply focused on the children, themselves. It was pretty dry, at times. The last story was the most interesting for me: Genie was severely abused by her father (tied up for 13 years with no human contact), and I even happened to be interested in the language acquisition part of it after she got out. Unfortunately, most of the other stories lost my interest pretty quickly once the basics of the child’s story was told and the author moved on to academic issues stemming from that child. The last story and the kids’ stories, themselves are what “pushed” this up the extra ½ star.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Reixel Soy Yo

    The author has nothing interesting to talk about. The book is really boring... I was expecting to read something scientifical and not this boring anecdotes...

  9. 5 out of 5

    Amy Turner

    I just skimmed a lot of this. The author is more interested in peoples reactions to the idea of kids "raised by wolves" etc. than in the kids themselves. Part of the problem is that there is not a lot of evidence, especially in the historical cases. The last chapter was the most interesting, because I felt I got to know the child better, but she wasn't really a wild child, but a victim of abuse, being locked up for years. I just skimmed a lot of this. The author is more interested in peoples reactions to the idea of kids "raised by wolves" etc. than in the kids themselves. Part of the problem is that there is not a lot of evidence, especially in the historical cases. The last chapter was the most interesting, because I felt I got to know the child better, but she wasn't really a wild child, but a victim of abuse, being locked up for years.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Esther

    A fascinating read and well-researched accounts of "feral children." Instead of solely asking "What makes us human?," the book also prompts us to ask why we mythologize these children, what draws us to their stories, and what is implied or possibly lacking in our society and communities to do so (especially considering the examples of imposters pretending to be "wild children"). A fascinating read and well-researched accounts of "feral children." Instead of solely asking "What makes us human?," the book also prompts us to ask why we mythologize these children, what draws us to their stories, and what is implied or possibly lacking in our society and communities to do so (especially considering the examples of imposters pretending to be "wild children").

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    I thought the book would have more information on the actual children, like a series of case studies. However, a lot of the book was devoted to the hisorical context of the children and the personalities of the people who found/studied the children. I found myself skimming the philosophy and history parts of the book, looking for actual facts on the children themselves.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Wifey

    Great read, lots of information, photos and not too academic. Thought provoking.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I'm really excited about starting this. Thanks Omi!!! To bad that I left it in Micaela's car.... :( I'm really excited about starting this. Thanks Omi!!! To bad that I left it in Micaela's car.... :(

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. On to Hayes in Rome --- Not sure quite what the goal was as this read wavered and had little overall conclusion but some was interesting and yet more makes me embarrassed for humankind.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Barbara Lockhart

    I was disappointed that there was so little information about the actual feral children and so much about those in their lives. Very interesting subject matter. Very boring book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Selene

    This started ok but as it went on it didn't seem to be much about wild children, more about the people who researched them! Boring This started ok but as it went on it didn't seem to be much about wild children, more about the people who researched them! Boring

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    This book read more like a doctoral study....a little too in-depth for my tastes.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hannah Givens

    I absolutely tore through this book, read it in about three sittings and it would've been just one if I hadn't been interrupted. I had a preexisting interest in feral children, I came across them when I was a youth reading all kinds of books about cryptids and ESP and all that kind of thing, and more recently was reminded of this interest because I've been reading a lot about cognition and animal intelligence. I was mostly seeing feral children mentioned as the only examples of humans raised wit I absolutely tore through this book, read it in about three sittings and it would've been just one if I hadn't been interrupted. I had a preexisting interest in feral children, I came across them when I was a youth reading all kinds of books about cryptids and ESP and all that kind of thing, and more recently was reminded of this interest because I've been reading a lot about cognition and animal intelligence. I was mostly seeing feral children mentioned as the only examples of humans raised without language. After reading this book, I have a whole new perspective on it, because, as an autistic person, I am absolutely sure that some (though of course not all) of these children were autistic, especially Victor of Aveyron. (I'm not the only one to have suggested this, I also found it mentioned on his Wikipedia page). The book is about, not the veracity or extensive details of the stories, but how the public reacted to them, how the scientists and caregivers conceptualized the children, why their stories became so well-known. Some other reviewers have complained about this, but I think it's fascinating, relevant, and historically appropriate since most of the records that we have are of people talking about the children, interpreting them. That said, it is really frustrating to get through these lengthy meditations on whether or not these animal children are really human when VICTOR IS AUTISTIC. His lack of language doesn't mean he's not human. You're missing the point entirely. But I do think Newton generally did a good job of pointing out that these stories are tragic, because all of these children are human. These "animal children" represent, without exception, human children who were horribly neglected. If not abused and abandoned to start with, almost always abused after being "rescued." Asking whether or not they're human, or what makes them human, is another way to brutalize them. There's a lot of really interesting history and philosophical discussion here, and I'm glad I read it. I'll be looking to other books to try and find more specific scientific details, which is probably what other reviewers were wanting. (Next on the list is Feral Children and Clever Animals: Reflections on Human Nature, which is a more recent publication.) But I also found it incredibly upsetting. Autistic (and disabled) children continue to be abandoned, abused, and murdered by their own parents. Autistic people continue to be systematically ignored and erased after they stop being odd children, like Peter and Victor both were. (They lived to their 50s, 60s, 70s! But we only hear about them being "feral children"!) Autistic people continue to have intense inexpressable emotions like Victor, to develop strong attachments to caregivers like Victor, to never speak but be able to write or otherwise communicate like Victor, and all anyone wants to talk about is how they "lack empathy" and are "imprisoned inside themselves" and "it's so sad." It's not sad because we can't always speak aloud, it's sad because you people are hurting us and killing us and pretending we're not human.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adam Stevenson

    How anyone could describe this book as dry is completely beyond me. I found Savage Girls and Wild Boys equal parts fascinating and heartbreaking. I was aware of most of the stories in this book, having been a voracious reader of ‘strange but true’ compendiums in my teens and having picked up the book at a charity shop a while ago, I decided to read it as some larky good fun and got far more than I bargained for. Because, the myth of the ‘wild child’ brought up by nature is exactly that, a myth. Al How anyone could describe this book as dry is completely beyond me. I found Savage Girls and Wild Boys equal parts fascinating and heartbreaking. I was aware of most of the stories in this book, having been a voracious reader of ‘strange but true’ compendiums in my teens and having picked up the book at a charity shop a while ago, I decided to read it as some larky good fun and got far more than I bargained for. Because, the myth of the ‘wild child’ brought up by nature is exactly that, a myth. Although Mowgli got a mention, these weren’t happy-go-lucky children brought up by animals with a closer connection to nature. These were children who, whether by abuse, neglect, learning difficulty or just bad luck, grew up without human language or socialisation. As each chapter deals with a different case and comes closer to the modern day, any slight resemblance to the ideal of the natural human being, unhampered by society’s false laws is stripped away and by the time we get to the end of the book, it seems like a sick joke. These ‘wild child’ stories all have a similar pattern. A child is found in an almost inhuman state, exciting great excitement in the society that finds them. The child is taken in, often by some people remarkable in themselves, where they find themselves the centre of an intellectual debate. There are some successes at integrating the child but as progress plateaus and general interest (and wealth) is siphoned off elsewhere, the child is packed somewhere quiet, ignored and forgotten about. That the book spends more time talking about the people that took the children in, the cultural context the child was found in and the general intellectual puzzles they raised at the time, is no surprise. Aside from the fact that most material can be found in these areas, they are what the book is about. Like the children themselves, they get lost in the greater discussions of what they mean to other people. Frequently, the child’s life before being found is not even addressed; like Peter the Wild Boy, or Victor of Aveyron, or was itself a source of myth like Meemie and Kasper Hauser. Their lives after their time in the spotlight seem forgotten and sad. One of the key elements in this book is about the importance of language in establishing a human identity. Meemie and Kasper both learn enough language to recount their stories, which is probably why their backgrounds are mythicised. Others like Peter and Kamala obtain a few words, where Victor and Genie have some major language breakthroughs but never properly obtain a full language. They reveal how language forms us and our identity, how it welcomes us into the full community of persons and what a heart-breaking thing it is to be denied that. Yet, in Genie’s almost supernatural non-verbal communication, in Victor’s reflective moments in the fountain and glee in the snow, of Peter’s fondness for pudding and Meemie’s love of swimming - we see how much human joy and connection can lie beyond language also. As heartrending as I found much of this book, there was a little glimpse of joy and something unshakeable about humanity that tempered that. (Incidentally, the only case I hadn’t heard of before this book was Genie’s, and the image of her haunted me, and still does a little to the extent that I needed to read more about her.)

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    Michael Newton's Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children was not all I had hoped it would be, which is actually quite fitting. Newton does his level best to tell the stories of children discovered living, either wild in nature, or isolated away from both human society and the natural world. In the process, he gives account after account of disappointments, failures and setbacks among those who attempted to "rescue" and rehabilitate these children. It makes sense, given the constr Michael Newton's Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children was not all I had hoped it would be, which is actually quite fitting. Newton does his level best to tell the stories of children discovered living, either wild in nature, or isolated away from both human society and the natural world. In the process, he gives account after account of disappointments, failures and setbacks among those who attempted to "rescue" and rehabilitate these children. It makes sense, given the constraints on his research, that he himself similarly fails to engage with the children themselves, telling instead the stories of the "normal" people who surrounded them. My disappointment with Newton's book came primarily from the unevenness with which he discussed the actual children involved in these stories. Too often, probably due to factors outside his control, a chapter would introduce the reader to a specific child's story only to diverge immediately, dwelling for the majority of its pages on the cultural perceptions, dreams, ambitions and philosophical essays written around or about the child by the luminaries (or not-so-luminaries) of the day. Toward the end of the book, Newton reflects: In most of the cases described in this book it is now impossible to know the veracity of the stories. The evidence is too flimsy and mostly lost; and of course that does not matter in the least. For the deeper point of interest in these stories is what was believed about the children. By becoming objects of speculation, they opened up the fantasies of a nation and, in the stories told around them, we glimpse into our dreams. Don't get me wrong. I agree with Newton: it is fascinating to examine the cultural reception of these children, to see the ways in which their contemporaries projected their own dreams and desires onto the supposedly blank slates of the "children of nature." In a neoclassical England of the eighteenth century, for example, Daniel Defoe and Dr. John Arbuthnot looked on the "wolf-boy" Peter's lack of socialization as a mark of his less-than-human status, opining that the human soul is only seeded into the body at birth, and must be developed by social intercourse in order to attain full humanity. By contrast, in a France of 1797, scarred by the excesses of the Revolution and awash with Rousseau's glorification of Man-in-a-state-of-nature, the wild boy Victor came to symbolize an untainted, radical innocence at odds with the "corruption" of cultured humanity. And in a proto-Germany saturated with Gothic romances, the strange tale of Kaspar Hauser, locked in a dirt room for twelve years, adopted by a fickle aristocrat, and murdered in a graveyard under mysterious circumstances, captured a cultural hunger for mystery and intrigue in a politically tumultuous time. After a while, though, I found myself dissatisfied to dwell on what these children meant to other people. Frustratingly, I wanted to know instead who they were, how they experienced their own lives rather than what they came to symbolize for the dominant culture. And that is exactly the thing I will never know, at least without the aid of a fictionalized, imaginative journey. Because most of the wild children of the book never truly acquired language, or, if they did, they found it difficult to apply their language to the period before their discovery and socialization. In the rare cases where the formerly-feral child lived to adulthood, acquired language and could use it to express herself (as with Memmie LeBlanc, discovered outside a French village in 1731), the people interested in publicizing her story often discounted her words in favor of their own interpretations. Invested in the idea of Memmie's "savagery" and ties with instinctual nature, her own biographer discounted Memmie's statements about her past. Instead, Madame Hecquet chose to base a theory of Memmie's origins around the woman's unspoken affinity for an Eskimo doll, even after Memmie expressed doubts that the doll did represent "her people": [C:]rucially, Madame Hecquet chose not to depend on Memmie's words at all. It was not what Memmie said in this scene that bore her authentic self; it was that instinct, that 'natural unaffected sentiment' that made her act by directing her hands and her gaze to the Eskimo puppets alone. Words deceive; nature does not: 'Such, at least, was my reasoning on the distinction she made between them'...Memmie becomes a cipher, a bearer of truth she herself cannot understand. This type of dynamic develops repeatedly in the various stories of wild children: many times, they attract interest for their potential to prove "normal" peoples' theories (about racial superiority, social development, moral "presence"), which makes for an awkward situation if the evidence or the children themselves start to disagree or disprove those theories instead. And if, rather than proving or disproving anything, the children seem to exist outside the expected framework of inquiry, their caregivers tended either to lose interest, or to attempt to force the facts to line up with their own preconceptions. Newton does engage with these issues, and writes on them well, but in some cases the direct evidence he's working with is so limited that he has little choice but to devote five pages to the specifics of the child's existence, and forty-five to the press reaction, philosophical climate, debate over whether the child is "human," and so on. In the end I found myself disagreeing with Newton's claim that the lack of evidence "does not matter in the least". To me, it seems to pinpoint instead the critically frustrating core of these stories, which is that the children discussed are human yet unknowable, incommunicable. All we can know is what we (or "our" fore-runners, the normally socialized people of the period) choose to project onto the supposedly blank canvas that the children present. Yet those canvases are not really blank at all; it's just that the reality they represent is too foreign for us to comprehend, so we choose to imagine our own "meaning" onto them.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Roisin

    The children listed in this book are Peter the Wild Boy, Memmie Le Blanc, Victor of Aveyron, Kasper Hauser, Kamala and Amala, and Genie. It was interesting to read these stories in the current day and see clear signs of autism in some of the children, and most children could convey an understanding of language but were considered failures due to not using verbal language. But I suggest reading about them elsewhere. There's a lot of this book that focuses more on the idea that spoken language is The children listed in this book are Peter the Wild Boy, Memmie Le Blanc, Victor of Aveyron, Kasper Hauser, Kamala and Amala, and Genie. It was interesting to read these stories in the current day and see clear signs of autism in some of the children, and most children could convey an understanding of language but were considered failures due to not using verbal language. But I suggest reading about them elsewhere. There's a lot of this book that focuses more on the idea that spoken language is the epitome of humanity, and it looks more at the carers/adopters/abusers of the children and their lives. At one point there's a proper tangent about Mowgli and Tarzan in the Kamala and Amala section that I still can't work out a connection to anything else in the chapter beyond 'it's in India right' As someone who had to go to speech therapy, and is content not speaking as much, it was really unpleasant reading the first chapter and the author implying how he viewed children in the speech therapy his mother worked at as exotic, mysterious creatures who chose not to speak.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Watts

    This is a very frustrating, if on occasion rewarding, book. It was frustrating for me in that (and judging from the other reviews here I’m not unique in my frustration) it regularly goes off topic, often does not properly discuss the topic on hand and when it does, tends to look at it too much for my taste from the perspective of literary history as opposed to contemporary science (perhaps unsurprising given that the author is a professor of English). Yet it remains full of fascinating informati This is a very frustrating, if on occasion rewarding, book. It was frustrating for me in that (and judging from the other reviews here I’m not unique in my frustration) it regularly goes off topic, often does not properly discuss the topic on hand and when it does, tends to look at it too much for my taste from the perspective of literary history as opposed to contemporary science (perhaps unsurprising given that the author is a professor of English). Yet it remains full of fascinating information and stories, perhaps the topic on hand is just too interesting for me to be totally dismissive. In theory as laid out in the introduction the book is a history of so-called feral children using six of the best documented case studies stretching from the eighteenth century to the 1970s. Even given these specifications it becomes clear from the text that some of these cases – two in particular - have very little to go on with small titbits of evidence scattered across several sources revealing a basic narrative but nothing much further. This leaves the rest to be discussed of what certain literary and intellectual figures such as Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift and Rudyard Kipling made of the concept of ‘the wild child’ and ‘the man without civilization’. This is interesting in itself, and worthy of study, but often tells us very little on the children themselves. It’s not so much a history of feral children as an intellectual exploration of what the idea of feral children has meant over time. Other case studies, with greater detail available provide much more than a skeletal narrative but here Newton frequently gets bogged down in trivial detail and misses the wood from the trees. Perhaps the most famous of his case studies is that of Kaspar Hauser, of whose case he deals with quite well discussing the ambiguities of his actions and the difficulty of interpreting him. In this Newton has a talent for description but in writing about the reaction to Hauser he spends far too long on the (to my mind, rather uninteresting) contemporary gossip theory that Hauser was the unacknowledged heir to the Duchy of Baden. While he admits it is probably untrue, it seems a vast and unnecessary diversion from the topic at hand. Diversions like that pepper this book and your mileage for them, like it did mine, may vary. Two of the more interesting studies are those of Memmie La Blanc (Ch. 3) and Genie (Ch. 7). The chapter on Le Blanc, a ‘wild’ girl found captured by villagers in rural France in the mid-18th Century and looked after by several minders and educators, including that of 18th Century Philosopher James Burnett. This section plays to Newton’s strengths as a writer. There is enough surviving information for there to be a sufficient narrative about the child, what she did and who she was while putting her case across as an intellectual history, in this context the history of 18th Century science and scientific debates about ‘the human’. While the section on Genie is helped by being the only one of the six who was both studied scientifically and was as a story, fodder for the most modern types of journalism. A victim of horrific abuse, Genie was found by the authorities at age 12 unable to talk or understand even the basics of human etiquette. Newton discusses her case in the context of attempts to educate her into normality (this is one of the book’s constant themes… which Newton never really dwells upon as a theme) while being the subject of intense study; an unwitting agent in debates about the nature of human language acquisition and learning. Despite this, Newton never loses the human element of this tragic case. Yet overall my impression of the book is mostly unsatisfying because, while perfectly fine in parts as an intellectual history, it never really tries to answer the real questions that this topic brings up and these are questions which a historian could at least propose a hypothesis or one. These would be such queries as what exactly are feral children? Is the category meaningful? If it is, what does to say about human nature? After 200 pages of text it is not really clear what unites the six case studies or whether these case studies are really united by anything. Kasper Hauser (Ch.5)was a possible hoax (the way that his section was written leans me to believe that there is something unusual about the Hauser story which is probably lost to the mists of time). Pretty much nothing was said on the case of Kamala and Amala (Ch.6) and a brief internet search would reveal that many doubt the authenticity of the story as it is based on one man’s word. Genie was not ‘raised’ the wild as per the tradition of ‘wild children’ but rather was isolated from the whole of humanity and strapped to a chair for years on end. Furthermore, some of the children failed to learn language, others did. Some managed to have some sort of acculturation into the norms of ‘civilization’, others did not. It is to my mind at least plausible that some of these children weren’t ‘wild’ at all but suffered from developmental disabilities – a thesis Newton doesn’t really entertain because he is not really interested in children themselves. Peter the Wild Boy (Ch.2) and Victor of Averyon (Ch.4) may well have been highly autistic rather than feral (and I’ve seen Victor’s case cited once in regards to the history of autism). Indeed, there is nothing here which can confirm without doubt that feral children are a real phenomenon as opposed to a cultural projection of ideas of ‘the wild’, ‘the uncivilized’, ‘the untamed’ and so on. Perhaps that is just the nature of topic at hand, ephemeral, out there but difficult to spot and see with any certainty. Perhaps one day a book will be written that will fully tackle this, but this book, unfortunately, is not that.

  23. 4 out of 5

    The Badger

    Granted, I read this back in grad school, but I remember the book well. Im disappointed by the negative reviews—it seems as if many readers were expecting something sensationalist in nature. This book isn’t that. Rather, it selves into developmental issues, such as the capacity to learn once the crucial years of language acquisition have passed, and whether healthy bonding can be achieved if that developmental period is also missed. This is a good read for practitioners working with attachment d Granted, I read this back in grad school, but I remember the book well. Im disappointed by the negative reviews—it seems as if many readers were expecting something sensationalist in nature. This book isn’t that. Rather, it selves into developmental issues, such as the capacity to learn once the crucial years of language acquisition have passed, and whether healthy bonding can be achieved if that developmental period is also missed. This is a good read for practitioners working with attachment disorders.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Freda Minton

    As other reviewers, I was disappointed in this book. There were only a few case studies and most focussed on “what makes a human human?”, as others said. However, being fair to the author, the case studies spanned history. He had to rely on research of those people who had some kind of contact with the children. And that research was about the nature of being human and language and the thus the information he wrote about.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Hopkinson

    Bought this to read so I could research a novel. It did exactly what I needed it to do. Fleshing out the historical details of the various “wild children” and most importantly, putting what other people thought of them in their historical and literary context. Very helpful.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    DNF Maybe when I’m in the mood for boring books then I’ll come back to this one. Only made it to chapter 2 before giving up. It’s just such a drudge to read so it’s very disappointing

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hollowspine

    A very thoughtful and engrossing history, discussing 'feral children,' and the nature of being human. What makes us human? Language? Society? The book takes cases ranging from the distant past to the modern age. As I was reading I was often reminded of extremely current news events as well as other modern stories, including of course, the novel Room by Donoghue. Newton's study brings up many very interesting questions, both about the extraordinary children and their caretakers and champions. The s A very thoughtful and engrossing history, discussing 'feral children,' and the nature of being human. What makes us human? Language? Society? The book takes cases ranging from the distant past to the modern age. As I was reading I was often reminded of extremely current news events as well as other modern stories, including of course, the novel Room by Donoghue. Newton's study brings up many very interesting questions, both about the extraordinary children and their caretakers and champions. The solitary nature of these savage girls and wild boys (esp. the wild boys whom often seemed to embody this connection with nature and strength in lone survival) were both greatly desired by the scientists who researched and attempted to educate them. Many contemporaries, who upon hearing the stories, would see these wild children and be influenced by them. It seems that the feral nature of mankind is quite the topic for many people, including Kipling (the Jungle Book, Kim, etc. Swift (Gulliver's travels) and other writers. As I read I became aware of so many connections to other things, books where our heroes/heroines are disconnected somehow from society, but instead of hindering, the solitude of their existence gives them greater power. This was not, in reality, the case for any of the children represented in the book. Their childhood alone in the wilderness or trapped by abusers was only the beginning of their stunted lives. Most died young and were never able to connect with humanity in a meaningful way. In part due to the loss of those early years, but also due to the scientists who tested them rather than nurturing them. However, I see the influence of these stories, from Romulus and Remus down to Naruto, who having a wild creature imprisoned inside him, his parents both dead, was too wild for the rest of his village and thus consigned to a solitary existence. Which, of course, gave him the greater powers of survival and compassion for others and his wild heritage enabling him to grow more powerful than a normal human (or ninja). This really was a very interesting book, and I would recommend it to anyone, though at times the wording is very academic, overall even those who do not normally enjoy non-fiction would find this fascinating.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nallie Sprouse

    If you want to read about actual wild children.... don't read this book. More opinion than facts, mostly about the authors life or about authors who have written about feral children. Extremely disappointing and dry book... couldn't even finish it. If you want to read about actual wild children.... don't read this book. More opinion than facts, mostly about the authors life or about authors who have written about feral children. Extremely disappointing and dry book... couldn't even finish it.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Max Carmichael

    The title is misleading...this book primarily consists of the author's ruminations on the cultural abstraction "wild child" and its implications for society, and only secondarily a history. The author is more interested in the people associated with these children, and in their cultural ramifications, than in the children themselves. In the author's view there are no important differences between children who have been isolated, imprisoned and abused, and children who have grown up outdoors in th The title is misleading...this book primarily consists of the author's ruminations on the cultural abstraction "wild child" and its implications for society, and only secondarily a history. The author is more interested in the people associated with these children, and in their cultural ramifications, than in the children themselves. In the author's view there are no important differences between children who have been isolated, imprisoned and abused, and children who have grown up outdoors in the company of animals. This may indeed have been the view of some specialists involved in the cases, but in a broader perspective that's preposterous; these are two strikingly different classes of human experience, and deserve to studied in their different contexts: physiological, psychological, anthropological, and sociological. Children who escape society or are abandoned, and manage to survive outdoors, by learning from and/or being nurtured by animals in exposed environments rich with both sensory information and danger, must develop in a totally different way from children who are trapped and isolated by humans in a manmade environment. Whereas the abused kids naturally suffer from stunted development, the truly "wild children" would not survive without hyper-acute senses and finely honed subsistence skills. That would be an interesting study and an interesting story, but you won't find it here.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Bianca Beyrouti

    While not a masterpiece, this is mostly an engaging read for those interested in human development. This book's greatest strength is the spotlight it shines on our prevailing cultural fascination with feral children. Newton hypothesizes that the cases of these children, ranging from Kaspar Hauser to Genie, reveal more about us as a society than the children themselves. According to him, the 'wildness' of these children calls into question our deeply held notions of what it means to be human vers While not a masterpiece, this is mostly an engaging read for those interested in human development. This book's greatest strength is the spotlight it shines on our prevailing cultural fascination with feral children. Newton hypothesizes that the cases of these children, ranging from Kaspar Hauser to Genie, reveal more about us as a society than the children themselves. According to him, the 'wildness' of these children calls into question our deeply held notions of what it means to be human versus being an 'animal' - and hence calls forth our need to understand these children, whether in the form of folklore or scientific study. While Newton relies heavily on an anecdotal writing style and presentation of evidence, his hypothesis is generally convincing. The case studies spanning the world and the last several centuries reveal the myriad conditions that have produced feral children, with the common denominator being abandonment and poverty in one form or another (for those cases in which the child's history could be gathered). Although based on valid source material, the book's biggest flaw is its occasional lapses into the very romanticization of feral children it strives to unravel: the wild child as a symbol of an unadulterated, primitive, borderline human being free from civilization and language.

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