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The Wild Boy of Aveyron Paperback – 1 Jul 1979

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New edition edition (1 July 1979)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674953002
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674953000
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.3 x 21 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,079,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A brilliantly-researched history that really reads like a novel...a model of living scholarship...It is a unique contribution to the history of medicine, psychology, and education. -- Clara Claiborne Park Washington Post The Wild Boy of Aveyron represents a unique case of total cultural deprivation, of mortal nakedness: a human being stripped of education, custom, dignity, brotherhood, sex, almost of humanity itself. Lane's book succeeds in sustaining the human interest along with scientific scrutiny. The intellectual space it occupies has been empty too long. -- Roger Shattuck New York Times Book Review Harlan Lane does an engaging and at times compelling job...He uses original documents, historical accounts, later scientific writings, and not the least, his own capacity as a first-rate narrator to tell us what the wild boy was like and what he prompted various psychological and educational theorists--psychiatrists like Phillippe Pinel or, later, physicians like Maria Montessori--to make of man's possibilities or limitations. -- Robert Coles Natural History This charming and moving book raises, sometimes directly and sometimes tangentially, important questions about the nature of human beings. -- Carl Sagan New Republic In 1800, the boy of the title was a child of perhaps twelve or thirteen who had been wandering alone in the mountainous forests of southern France for an unknown time before his capture. Like other children who have grown up without human contact, the lad, who was later named Victor, behaved in peculiar ways. Most importantly, he could not speak. Victor was discovered at a period when philosophical investigations into human nature had begun to affect medicine, psychology, and pedagogy. He was brought to Paris and turned over to a young doctor, Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard...Dr. Lane tells us how a whole new kind of education descends from Itard's lifework--first, the training of the physically handicapped, then the training of the mentally retarded. (Before modern times, both kinds of people were regarded as useless and unteachable.) Finally, through Maria Montessori, Itard's concepts were applied to teaching ordinary youngsters, and Dr. Lane points out how his difficult discoveries have become everyday assumptions. His book is an exceptionally readable, intelligent monument to one of humanity's benefactors and to his successors, who carried on in Itard's spirit of scientific curiosity, kindness, and doggedness. New Yorker


A full account of Dr. Jean-Marc Itard's work, in the early 1800s, with Victor, who had lived wild for twelve years, and of the resulting educational, psychological, anthropological, and philosophical controversies and changes.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
enfant sauvage de l'Aveyron 9 Jan 2001
By Maya Amichai - Published on
Format: Paperback
In the book The Wild Boy of Aveyron Harlan Lane does a wonderful job of combining the story of a wild boy, historic context, growth of deaf-mute education, and the techniques of Itard, the wild boys teacher, into an enthralling and captivating novel. Narration as well as primary sources are used alternately to tell the story. The book has a philosophical twist ; many prominenet philosophers are qouted and the difference between man and animal is discussed in depth in a rather interesting narrative which makes use of outseide sources and examples. The story begins with thespotting and eventual capture of the wild boy in the forests of Aveyron. As he is moved form one place to another to be studied his progress is noted. After failing to "civilize him" Sicard, head of the deaf-mute institute and a great advancer in education for deaf-mutes, declares him retarded and a lost cause and leaves him in the attic of the institute. Itard later takes it upon himself to teach the student using revolutionary techniques, often based on the boys fondness for food or his needs at them time, to civilize and educate him. Sypmathy for the boy increases as the plot thickens and it is momentous everytime the boy makes progress. Though it was enriching and interesting when backround information was given about the Revolution, history of the institute and of Itards techniques, at times it was a bit much. The author would go on tangents, veering from the focus of the book, and did not discuss the boy enough. By the end of the book it is difficult to tell whether the purpose of the was truly the story and progress of the wild boy or rather the history of deaf-mute education.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
A masterpiece for all educators 7 Mar 2002
By Jacques COULARDEAU - Published on
Format: Paperback
Harlan Lane, in this book which is already a little bit old but remains a masterpiece, gives us a complete picture of education movements starting with Itard's attempt at educating the wild boy of Aveyron and going through to Montessori's school of pedagogy. He carefully identifies the main mistakes made by Itard with the wild boy : he did not emphasize enough the capabilities of the wild boy when he was captured and he de-socialized him by not integrating him in a social group of his peers and in society at large. Apart from that this doctor started a completely new movement in education that will be largely amplified by his student Séguin, who will put the essential emphasis on socialisation and productive activities opening the door to Montessori who emphasizes in her turn the importance of self-education in a socially active and stimulating school environment. These three people are the founding fathers and mother of the education of deaf-mutes, mentally-handicapped children and children at large.
His book though is optimistic as for the « victory » of these ideas and principles. The debate, at times conflictual, is still raging in our school systems that are not enough socialised, i.e. open onto society at large, and that are not based on self-education in a socially structured and stimulating school environment. Too often we relapse in narrow guidance if not replacing the autonomous efforts of the students with the superior frame of learning imposed by teachers. He also does not emphasize enough on the need for a strict and compelling behavior of the teachers who must not in any way accept to substitute their knowledge to the individual and collective search for knowledge among the students, in spite of all resistance that comes from the very second principle of Seguin's method. It is a natural tendency among children and teenagers to resist such a course of action because it is a lot more exacting, it requires a lot greater effort on their part. This natural tendency to do as little as possible is slightly overlooked. Autonomy is costly on the side of the students and is challenging on the side of the teachers who are not the only source of knowledge any more.
A great book that should be the starting point of any educator in any field and at any level because it shows that motivation is the only engine of learning as for students, and that motivation is varied among students and contradictory with the natural tendency to do as little as possible, to rely on a pre-digested source...
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Good and important book 28 Jun 2005
By Jack D. Eller - Published on
Format: Paperback
Lane has done us a real service in collecting all of this primary-source material into one place. Much if not most of this book is extended excerpts of original documents from 2 centuries ago. Some people might not like reading all of this old and stiff prose, but it gives us the most authentic picture possible of what was going on at the time.

The inclusion of the deaf-mute discussion, while not everyone's cup of tea, illustrates two important points. First, questions of "human nature" were being approached from a number of directions simultaneously even 200 years ago, and some of these insights actually bore some fruit. Some of them were silly and even insulting, but people did not yet know what was what, so they had to try a lot of things. Second, out of the study of children like the wild boy, and deaf-mute children, some really innovative and important teaching methods emerged. Again, people had no idea how to explain or intervene with these cases until recently, and a few brave and thoughtful individuals began to find humane and effective treatments and training methods that we all benefit from today.

Everyone interested in human nature or the early days of social science should grapple with this book.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
A new edition 1 Nov 2009
By S. M Marson - Published on
Format: Paperback
I first read THE WILD BOY OF AVEYON while a sophomore in college. Itard's short paperback was recommended by my sociology professor (Lynn Nelson). Although I changed my major six times, THE WILD BOY OF AVEYON was the catalyst for finding my new home in the Sociology Department. I was excited about my new major and was delighted to pursue extra and non required reading. In the end, THE WILD BOY OF AVEYON opened my eyes to the profound impact social forces have on the person.

During the spring semester of 2010, I had an opportunity to return to teaching sociology after 20 years of teaching social work. In recalling interaction with Professor Nelson, I decided that requiring freshmen and sophomores to complete a book report would be a good strategy to appreciate and/or hate sociology. After a search on Amazon, I learned that Itard's original THE WILD BOY OF AVEYON was out of print. I was distressed that my students would not be able to read the same book as I did. Instead, I found Lane's version of THE WILD BOY OF AVEYON. I was disappointed until I read it.

Lane's work is a carefully crafted piece that includes much of Itard's original work plus writings of Itard's contemporaries. Unlike the original, Lane is able to take a step back and assess the long term implications of Itard's work with Victor. The reader with acquire commentary addressing the issue: Was the boy left in the wild by his parents because he was mentally retarded OR did the wild reduce this child into a state of mental retardation? The answer was left to the reader in Itard's original work. Lane does not specifically answer the question but does an exceptionally good job in guiding the reader to intellectual comparisons (see page 179).

Lane's version of THE WILD BOY OF AVEYON is a profoundly important piece of literature for the introductory study of sociology. However, it is not an easy read for freshmen. However, all who seriously read this fine book will become intellectually sharper. They will see the coercive forces of our social structure in a different light and will be challenged to understand the impact that social isolation has on individuals.
almost the best part of the tale is watching Itard create a ... 20 Nov 2014
By Glenn J. Shea - Published on
Format: Paperback
VICTOR. One of the arresting stories of French history is of the abandoned boy discovered in 1797 in the forests of Aveyron, who had been living wild for some years, who was captured and brought to Paris and who for six years was the sole student of Dr. Jean Marc Gaspard Itard, who attempted to bring the boy into the human community by teaching him the use of language. Victor de L’Aveyron, as he came to be known, arrived in Paris with many of the eagerly-discussed questions of the time billowing around him. What is the human in isolation? What is man in the savage state? What are the gains and losses of the civilizing process? Victor was a walking philosophical question—the answers to which, as his education progressed, kept rolling just out of reach. What can be captured in part is the human drama, the relation between Victor and Doctor Itard, as well as Itard’s remarkably intuitive teaching skills; almost the best part of the tale is watching Itard create a pedagogy day by day, as the meanings of Victor’s responses appear and shift. It’s a story of wonderful particulars of the France of its day, and of historical importance to the history of education and medicine, but also of the human inheritance we all have title to. Itard’s own reports are available in English (THE WILD BOY OF AVEYRON, translated by George and Muriel Humphrey, Meredith Publishing, 1962) and the French texts are included in Lucien Malson’s LES ENFANTS SAUVAGES (Editions 10/18, 1964). Two excellent books are Harlan Lane’s THE WILD BOY OF AVEYRON (Harvard, 1964) and Roger Shattuck’s THE FORBIDDEN EXPERIMENT (Farrar Strauss Giroux, 1980). Lane’s book is the more detailed and has an exhaustive bibliography; Shattuck is the more graceful storyteller. Mordicai Gerstein’s novel VICTOR (Farrar, Strauss, 1998) is less interesting than the non-fiction accounts. In the 1970 film “L’Enfant Sauvage,” Francois Truffaut brought his own nuance and sensibility to the story: when, in Nestor Almendros’s ravishing black-and-white photography, we see Victor dance in the moonlight, it’s eerie and moving beyond words, and it hints at ecstacies a cultivated man like Itard knows not of. Maybe those mad old Romantics weren’t all wrong.

Glenn Shea, from Glenn's Book Notes at
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