He never had children and admitted he never really felt comfortable around them; nonetheless, Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) became one of the most popular—and successful—children's writers in American history. His was the genius that created The Cat in the Hat, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Green Eggs and Ham and other fanciful, loopily rhyming and subtly instructive volumes. Born in Springfield, Mass., to a family of German immigrants, Geisel grew to love books, but he was a clever joker who tended to coast along in school (he attended Dartmouth, Oxford and the Sorbonne but graduated only from the first). When he took up cartooning, he adopted his middle name as his pseudonym and awarded himself a "Dr." to commemorate the doctorate he failed to earn.
The writers of this authorized biography rhapsodize over Geisel's imaginative drawings and his inspired wordplay. They also try to smooth over the scandal of Geisel's life—an all too adult episode involving his marriage. In 1967, Helen Palmer Geisel despaired as she sensed that her husband of 40 years was growing distant, and she committed suicide. Indeed, Geisel had fallen in love with Audrey Dimond, a woman 18 years his junior and the wife of a close friend. The whole mess played out in front of the close-knit, upscale community of Lajolla, Calif., where Geisel lived and worked for four decades.
Geisel's biographers (themselves La Jolla natives) quickly get back, with evident relief, to recounting their subject's many-accomplishments and awards, among them a Pulitzer Prize. In their words, Geisel is a "wise and incorrigible child" whose innocent perceptiveness about issues like anti-Semitism, racism and nuclear weapons should be a lesson for us all. Sorry to sound like a Grinch, but their pedantic one cries out for Dr. Seuss's own light touch. (Random House, $25)