Cradles of Eminence
Second Edition
Childhoods of more than 700 famous men and women.
by Victor Goertzel, Mildred Goertzel, Ted Goertzel and Ariel M.W. HansenCradles of

    Although Cradles of Eminence was published  in 1962 (by Little, Brown and Company), it continued to be cited on lists of suggested readings for parents and educators.  The Child's World Online Learning Site describes it as:  An absorbing study of the childhoods of some 400 prominent people that seeks to relate early-childhood factors to eventual success in life. It brings together biography, autobiography, and professional literature about gifted children and adults.  Unfortunately, the book went out of print, and library copies became hard to find.  I (Ted Goertzel, Mildred and Victor's son) checked (on May 3, 2001) and found two used copies being offered, one for $125.00 and one for $245.00 (with Victor's signature). When I checked on July 28, 2001, however, I couldn't find the book at all.  I occasionally received emails from people asking where they might find a copy.   Fortunately, Great Potential Press published a second edition in 2004, including an update chapter by me and my niece, Ariel M.W. Hansen.  The paperback should be available in June.

    In addition to Cradles of Eminence, Mildred, Victor and I collaborated in a sequel called Three Hundred Eminent Personalities (Jossey-Bass, 1978).  It is also out of print, and was selling for $125 on, but was not on their site when I last checked.  It can be found in libraries, and findings from it are summarized in the second edition of Cradles of Eminence.  Material from my book Turncoats and True Believers, still in print, is also included.  

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 11:  "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking"  (pages 271 to 274 in the first edition, 281-283 of the second edition.)

THERE IS A DANGER in trying too hard to be conclusive and of being drawn into tidying data to give easy answers to difficult problems.  Such efforts too often lead to putting the right saddle on the wrong horse.
    An uncritical adoption of new ideas has already caused many abrupt reversals in methods of child-rearing.  Parents reared on strict schedules are convinced of a need for demand feeling for their own infants.  Fathers and mothers reared permissively are attracted to the idea that setting limits makes for emotional security in their own children.
    There are no easy answers as to how to rear capable, creative children who will happily make effective use of their talents and skills.  However, an over-all view of the experiences of the Four Hundred may stimulate us to some informed and serious guessing as to the best way to initiate a new level of creativeness and flowering of excellence.


    Most of the eminent are not born in the great metropolitan centers but drift into the larger centers from the farms, villages, and smaller cities.  Stage celebrities more often come from the cities than do persons of other occupations.

    In almost all the homes there is a love for learning in one or both parents, often accompanied by a physical exuberance and a persistent drive toward goals.   Fewer than ten percent of the parents failed to show a strong love for learning.

    Three-fourths of the children are troubled - by poverty;  by a broken home;  by rejecting, overpossessive, estranged, or dominating parents;  by financial ups and downs;  by physical handicaps;  or by parental dissatisfaction over the children's school failures or vocational choices.

    One-half of the parents were opinionative about a controversial subject which set them apart in their own time but is accepted with little or no animus today.  Opinionative parents reared nearly all the statesmen, the humanitarians and the reformers.

    None of the twenty poets among the four Hundred is the son or daughter of a poet.

    Seventy-four of eighty-five writers of fiction or drama and sixteen of twenty poets come from homes where, as children, they saw tense psychological dramas played out by their parents.

    Twenty-one of thirty-two physicians, lawyers and scientists come from family backgrounds which give them opportunities for outdoor explorations, considerable personal freedom, and early responsibility.  They are often physically active, make collections, and are mischievous.

    Nearly half the fathers were subject to traumatic vicissitudes in their business or professional careers.

    One-fourth of the mothers are described as dominating, but only one-twentieth of the fathers warrant this description.

    Wealth is much more frequent than is abject poverty.  One family had public assistance;  one subject was reared in a work-house;  two were in orphanages.   Five others experience extreme deprivation.  There are twenty-one families which lived on inherited income or were known to be very wealthy.  Three hundred and fifty-eight families (some wealthy) can be classified as representing the business or professional classes.

    Handicaps such as blindness;  deafness;  being crippled, sickly, homely, undersized, or overweight;  or having a speech defect occur in the childhoods of over one-fourth of the sample.  In many of these individuals, the need to compensate for such handicaps is seen by them as a determining factor in their drive for achievement.

    Among explorers and adventurers, there is almost always a history of accident-proneness.

    Dictators, military men and poets have the highest percentage of dominating or overpossessive (smothering) mothers.  An over-possessive parent of a peer-rejected child (especially a mother who dislikes her husband) is the most likely to rear a dictator or ;military hero who enjoys the carnage of battle.

    The loss by death of a brother or sister id described as extremely traumatic by fifty-seven persons.

    Stepmothers, of whom there were fourteen, played a helpful role to eleven stepsons or stepdaughters, and are not appreciated by three stepsons.

    Among the children of twenty-three alcoholic fathers, there are fourteen who are humorous writers, actors or actresses, or singers.

    The homes of the Four Hundred were exceptionally free of mental illnesses requiring hospitalization.

    The children enjoyed being tutored, whether by professional tutors or by their parents.

    The secondary school was the most frequently disliked, and the prestige college was the best accepted.

    Three-fifths of the four Hundred expressed dissatisfaction with schools and schoolteachers, although four-fifths showed exceptional talent.