Paul Tough

Writer & Speaker

Book cover

Reviews & Praise

“I wish I could take this compact, powerful, clear-eyed, beautifully written book and put it in the hands of every parent, teacher and politician. At its core is a notion that is electrifying in its originality and its optimism: that character—not cognition—is central to success, and that character can be taught. How Children Succeed will change the way you think about children. But more than that: it will fill you with a sense of what could be.”
—Alex Kotlowitz, author of There Are No Children Here

“Nurturing successful kids isn’t a game of chance. There are new, powerful ideas about how to help children thrive, innovations that have transformed schools, homes, and lives. Paul Tough has scoured the science and interviewed the experts, and now he’s written an instruction manual for the rest of us.”
—Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit

“Turning the conventional wisdom about child development on its head, New York Times Magazine editor Tough argues that non-cognitive skills (persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence) are the most critical to success in school and life. … Well-written and bursting with ideas, this will be essential reading for anyone who cares about childhood in America.”
—STARRED Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2012

“In this absorbing and important book, Tough explains why American children from both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum are missing out on these essential experiences. … The book illuminates the extremes of American childhood: for rich kids, a safety net drawn so tight it’s a harness; for poor kids, almost nothing to break their fall.”
—Annie Murphy Paul, The New York Times Book Review, August 23, 2012

“Mr. Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, combines compelling findings in brain research with his own first-hand observations on the front lines of school reform. He argues that the qualities that matter most to children’s success have more to do with character – and that parents and schools can play a powerful role in nurturing the character traits that foster success. His book is an inspiration. It has made me less of a determinist, and more of an optimist.”
—Margaret Wente, The Globe and Mail, August 31, 2012

“An engaging book that casts the school reform debate in a provocative new light. … [Tough] introduces us to a wide-ranging cast of characters — economists, psychologists, and neuroscientists among them — whose work yields a compelling new picture of the intersection of poverty and education.”
—Thomas Toch, The Washington Monthly, September/October 2012

How Children Succeed is a must-read for all educators. It’s a fascinating book that makes it very clear that the conventional wisdom about child development is flat-out wrong.”
School Leadership Briefing Audio Journal [PDF], September 2012

“I loved this book and the stories it told about children who succeed against big odds and the people who help them. … It is well-researched, wonderfully written and thought-provoking.”
—Siobhan Curious, Classroom as Microcosm, September 3, 2012

How to Succeed takes readers on a high-speed tour of experimental schools and new research, all peppered with anecdotes about disadvantaged youths overcoming the odds, and affluent students meeting enough resistance to develop character strengths.”
—James Sweeney, Cleveland Plain Dealer, September 4, 2012

“[This] wonderfully written new book reveals a school improvement measure in its infancy that has the potential to transform our schools, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.”
—Jay Mathews, Washington Post, September 13, 2012

“Paul Tough’s excellent new book … rises to the top of the parenting book pile for its deep exploration of failure and the ways in which it builds character in our kids.”
—Judy Bolton-Fasman, Huffington Post, September 21, 2012

“Drop the flashcards – grit, character, and curiosity matter even more than cognitive skills. A persuasive wake-up call.”
—People Magazine, September 24, 2012

—David Brooks, The New York Times, September 28, 2012

“Tough writes with compassion and understanding; this is not a handbook; rather it’s an approach to understanding how some students beat long odds and others don’t.”
—Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune, October 1, 2012

“I’m telling you: order immediately. [How Children Succeed] is engrossing, easy to read, full of stories, relevant to teachers and parents, and epiphany-producing.”
—Elena Aguilar, Edutopia, October 4, 2012

“If you’ve ever read Jonathan Kozol’s work, Tough brings a similar ethnographic, journalistic, and humane, middle-class re-awakening to challenges we do not all share. The difference is in how Paul Tough ties together the qualities we humans do all share that drive us to the definition of success created by mainstream middle-class America.”
Sutterblog, October 14, 2012

“Decades of fascinating research is now wonderfully assembled in Paul Tough’s important new book, ‘How Children Succeed.’ Long may this book dwell on the best-seller lists!”
—Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times, October 21, 2012

“[Tough] recognizes that government must set an agenda that tackles the terrible conditions in which so many families and children live. Schools alone can’t do it, even with character education programs. And for those reasons, I applaud his new book.”
—Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch’s Blog, October 23, 2012

“Reading Tough’s new book, ‘How Children Succeed,’ reminded me just why he’s so good. The book is a synthesis of all the latest research on learning, told in well-packaged chapters like ‘How to Think’ and ‘How to Fail (and How Not To).’ I learned so much reading this book and I came away full of hope about how we can make life better for all kinds of kids.”
—Emily Bazelon, Slate, November 27, 2012

“Can [character strengths] be taught? Absolutely, says Tough, and he provides the convincing research and results that bear him out in rich and readable prose. ‘How Children Succeed’ is not just an important book: It is essential.”
Daily Herald (Provo, Utah), December 2, 2012

“Paul Tough’s ‘How Children Succeed’ is an extraordinarily thoughtful book that had a profound impact on me as both a parent and a policy maker. He highlights the need to encourage our kids to stretch themselves, to help them learn to thrive in different environments and to let them fail—which is counterintuitive, but so important. Now my wife, two kids and I sit at the dinner table at night and actually ask each other, ‘What did you fail at today?’ We talk about how to learn from that experience and how to be resilient. Mr. Tough presents a thoughtful strategy to help those children most at risk, and it left me feeling hopeful about the huge difference we can make in the lives of those who have little opportunity.”
—Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2012

“Tough makes the convincing case that it’s not test scores or even raw intelligence that predict who will triumph: It’s grit, curiosity and persistence, all life skills that can be taught. An eye-opener.”
—People Magazine, Top 10 Books of 2012, December 31, 2012

“There is much in this immensely readable book to engage and fascinate.”
—Judith Woods, The Telegraph (London), January 8, 2013

“A fine and provocative book … ambitious and elegantly written.”
The Economist, January 19, 2013

“A vivid and persuasive social polemic, rooted in real children’s lives …. Brilliantly readable.”
The Independent (London), March 6, 2013

“[Tough] offers vivid reported accounts about the struggles of specific children, teachers, and administrators across the spectrum of socioeconomic class.”
Bookforum, June/July/August 2013

“Finally, an ‘up’ book about education. I smiled broadly as I read through Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed. Granted, the book is not an ‘up’ because of the happy stories it tells of how beautifully we’re handling our kids. It does not. But it is sheer joy to have a smart, research-driven path laid out clearly, one that will actually help get kids educated. … Terrific book.”
—Julia Steiny, GoLocalProv, July 3, 2013

“Exceedingly excellent. … Treat yourself to the altogether indispensable ‘How Children Succeed.'”
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, September 26, 2013

“Tough is among a very small number of reporters who gets complex science right consistently. He takes you through attachment theory, the HPA axis, and executive control functions, all without losing his footing nor prompting glazing in the reader’s eyes.”
—Daniel Willingham, Science and Education Blog, October 29, 2013

“My eyes were opened to a profound message that Paul uses to encourage us to make the world a better place, one child at a time. It’s my favorite book this year; I don’t expect anything will top it.”
—Chris Harden, Trobo Blog, July 17, 2014