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Learning to See

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  206 ratings  ·  84 reviews

At a time when women were supposed to keep the home fires burning, Dorothea Lange, creator of the most iconic photographs of the 20th century, dares to be different. Now, in this riveting new novel by the author of The Other Alcott, we see the world through her eyes…

In 1918, a fearless twenty-two-year old arrives in bohemian San Francisco from the Northeast, determined to

ebook, 384 pages
Published January 22nd 2019 by William Morrow Paperbacks
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4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  206 ratings  ·  84 reviews

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Cindy Burnett
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Learning to See tells the story of Dorothea Lange’s extraordinary life and her efforts to expose severe social injustices during the 1930s and 1940s. Lange spent the early years of her career in San Francisco as a portrait photographer. After her marriage begins to crumble and the U.S. economy collapses with the onset of the Great Depression, Lange must find a way to support her two young sons. She begins to travel around California capturing images of the Dust Bowl migrants and others who heade ...more
3.5 stars and my thanks to for the advanced copy.

Photographer Dorothea Lange's most famous work is probably Migrant Mother taken in 1936 during the Great Depression, but it was her later work in the Japanese internment camps that got my attention. An independent portrait photographer, she hired herself out to the U.S. government when times got rough, to document living conditions for migrants that officials in Washington DC had no way of knowing. They both appreciated her talent
Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede
I had never heard about Dorothea Lange before I read this book, but the blurb intrigued me. I love reading about women who were brave enough to follow their dreams and LEARNING TO SEE is definitely a book that is worth reading.

Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really loved this book!


It's so, so funny how life works out sometimes. When I was in high school, my AP US History teacher of all time (my favorite teacher of all time) often started class by showing us iconic images and then facilitated critical thinking discussions about what we were seeing, what may have led the photographer to take the photo, etc etc. He used many of Dorothea Lange's photographs and they have been cemented in my brain throughout my life, which led me to do the same th
In 1918, photographer Dorothea Lange leaves NYC and heads to San Francisco, eager to make a name for herself. She soon meets and falls in love with Maynard Dixon, an extremely capacious natured painter. Throughout her time there, she meets fellow artists like Frida Kahlo, writers and numerous talents. Faced with the relenting desire with trying to capture the true picture of the times, she find herself struggling between work, marriage and motherhood. This fascinating tale is for fans of Marie B ...more
Gabriella | The Novel Nook
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A massive thank you to Elise Hooper and William Morrow for my ARC of LEARNING TO SEE! This novel tells the story of photographer Dorothea Lange, a woman I knew very little about, and I absolutely loved learning about her! This story is so beautifully written, full of historical detail and engaging characters and environments, all as real and vivid as Dorothea’s photographs (some of which are included at the end of the novel, which I appreciated SO much). Dorothea Lange was such a driven and insp ...more
Chanel Cleeton
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A powerful and timely view of America told through the lens of Dorothea Lange, a fascinating woman whose photographs shone a light on the nation's forgotten and abandoned. Learning to See is both a sweeping portrayal of the effects of the Great Depression and World War II and an intimate look at Lange's relationships, advocacy, and photography. Detailed and thoroughly immersive, Learning to See grips the reader and highlights an important period in American history.
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I knew the photography of Dorothea Lange but little about her personal life so I was glad to be given the opportunity to read
Learning to See by Elise Hooper.

Hooper's novel offers an accessible narrative of Lange's life from her point of view. Lange's childhood polio left her with a limp from a deformed foot. She established a successful portrait photography career until the Depression when her work dwindled. With two children and an artist husband, Lange had to give up her studio to work for the
Nov 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received a giveaway copy from goodreads for a review. This book is about Dorthea Lange. although it is based on a real life person the author writes a book of fiction about the real Dorthea Lange. she imagines by collecting facts about the photographer what her life may have been like. Dorthea Lange was a prize winning photographer. Her most famous pictures were from the depression era, the dustbowl migrants and in the forties when she visited internment camps that housed the Japenese citizens ...more
Carol (Reading Ladies)
4.5 stars

Thanks to #WilliamMorrow #HarperCollins for my free copy of #LearningtoSee by Elise Hooper in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

"It takes a lot of practice to see things are they are, not as you want them to be." (P 121)

Learning to See is a fictionalized biography inspired by real life photographer, Dorothea Lange. We first meet twenty-two year old Dorothea in 1918 as she arrives in San Francisco with her best friend. Through wit and a determination to create her o
Kate Olson
Jan 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing

I count the author as one of my bookish friends and I’m so grateful she entrusted me with review copies of her novels ❤
Her first title THE OTHER ALCOTT was a natural hit for me given the subject matter ~ Louisa May Alcott’s sister, Amy. However, I had never even HEARD of Dorothea Lange before reading LEARNING TO SEE and now I’m absolutely obsessed with this groundbreaking photographer. Hooper writes historical fiction about fascinating women and does what so many other writers avoid ~
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: early-reviewers
I remember years ago seeing Dorothea Lange's famous photograph Migrant Mother.

It always brought wonder to me, seeing this image of a woman sitting with her children, hand to her face, looking forlorn, world-weary, bedraggled. I'd not heard much about the photographer until recently.

Learning to See is Elise Hooper's fictionalized account of Dorothea Lange's life, though it seems more like an actual biography. She based her story on documents, diaries, a
Meredith Jaeger
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful portrait of the life and activism of Dorothea Lange. San Francisco during Lange's early career in the 1920s is particularly vivid. I learned so much more about Lange and her Depression Era photography than I already knew from the famous portrait Migrant Mother. A wonderful book for fans of historical fiction, strong female protagonists and book clubs. Highly recommended!
Meg - A Bookish Affair
4.5 stars. "Learning to See" is a fictionalized story of great American photographer Dorothea Lange. Even if you don't think you know her name, you probably know her work. She is best known for some of the work that she did capturing people in difficult circumstances during the early to mid part of the 20th century. This book gives a great picture of what Lange was like behind the scenes.

Well-researched, this book has so much good detail. We get to see how Dorothea goes from a fledgling photogr
Amy (TheSouthernGirlReads)
Dec 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For me the need to research when I finish a book based on a real life person is a testament to an amazing book. Learning to See did that for me. When I closed the book. I needed more. Wiki to the rescue...I was able to immerse myself in the life of Dorothea Lange even more. I loved this book. Elise is an amazing storyteller. The amount of research is absolutely staggering.

I love historical fiction. It is a genre I hold close. The way Elise writes...based on true events is quite possibly my favo
Oct 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
An account of the life of Dorothea Lange which touches only briefly on her most famous photograph, Migrant Mother. Instead, Dorothea is personalized as a wife and mother, supporting her husbands emotionally and financially.

I read this EARC courtesy of Wm. Morrow and Edelweiss. Pub date 01/22/19
Lisa Duffy
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeously written with exquisite historical detail, Learning to See is a fascinating tale of one remarkable woman’s life. Told with the same precise prose and terrific nuance as her stunning debut, The Other Alcott, Elise Hooper proves once again that she’s a masterful storyteller.
Jenni Walsh
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of the reasons why I enjoy fictional memoirs is because I often find parallels or a certain level of relativism, even in a different person's life, place, and time. This familiarity and plausible storyline often draws me in. And, Dorothea Lange's storyline definitely drew me in. I knew very little about her when I began Elise Hooper's sophomore novel, but I felt a kinship while reading. The following surfaced as my favorite line/sentiment from the uncorrected galley: "The prospect of not cha ...more
Kim McGee
Sep 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
Dorothea Lange, the famous photographer, was lucky her money got stolen that day and she and her friend ended up staying in San Francisco. She went from starting as a portrait photographer to pay the rent to become one of this country's leading artistic activists of the Depression Era and beyond. She wasn't the greatest wife, mother or possible friend but she made up for it in her determination to show the world the injustice in front of them through her stark photos. This is a riveting portrait ...more
Janelle • She Reads with Cats
Thank you so much to TLC Book Tours, William Morrow Books, and the author for my free copy of LEARNING TO SEE -

Historical or biographical fiction - whatever you want to call it - this one was done well with an impressive amount of research. I enjoy reading about artists and their choices especially when it comes to writers and photographers so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book.

In 1918, twenty-two-year-old Dorothea Nutzhorn moved to San Francisco to make a life for herself. She opened
Kelly McCord
Feb 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
4.5 *s. Elise Hooper is quickly becoming one of my favorite historic fiction authors. In this book and her previous, The Other Alcott, she takes a historic figure and with an enormous amount of research builds a story around them.
This novel is about Dorothea Lange, a photographer who exposed the many social injustices occurring during The Great Depression and World War II. It depicts the struggle of an ambitious woman trying to support her two children at the same as confronting the inhumanitie
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Learning to See, by Elise Hooper is a book that transported me back to post WWII, and the events that defined America's poverty stricken citizens.

From Dorothea Lange's photographic documentation of that era in time, we see her move forward, through the decades and her involvement in WWII, and the suffering of the Japanese who are imprisoned in internment camps.

She was a woman before her time, a woman who fought for social justice for everyone, no matter their background. Her steadfast concentra
Basic B's Guide
Feb 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gabrielle S
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of the Pop Sugar prompts is to read a novel based on a real person. This fit the bill and also had the advantage of being a novel about someone who I didn't know anything about. I found it to be engaging and Dorothea Lange had a fascinating life.
This book started off very slow, but picked up about 1/3 of the way in. It's an interesting and easy read about Dorthea Lange.
Oct 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
What a timely story, with unavoidable parallels to tragedies underway today. It’s about Dorothea Lange, who until now most of us really only know through her famous photograph “Migrant Mother.”

Hooper has imagined a full & furious life for Lange, who really did learn to see from behind a camera. She fought bravely against governmental indifference and censorship to help tell the true story of depression-era migrant workers and Japanese-American detention camps. She was a fierce lady, ahead o
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A year or so ago I found a copy of Mary Coin, a novel by Marisa Silver and recognized the cover picture as the iconic depression era Dorothea Lange image entitled Migrant Mother. After reading Mary Coin, a book I highly recommend, I was left with a yen to know more about documentary photography and Dorothea Lange.

A new historical novel, Learning to See by Elise Hooper, imagines Dorothea Lange's life story using known facts and references. I was lucky to win an advanced copy from Early Readers/Li
Thank you @Elise Hooper and @williammorrowbooks for this copy to review!

If you had asked me who Dorothea Lange was before I read Learning to See, I would have had no answer for you. And yet, her haunting photograph commonly called "Migrant Mother" is so iconic, I can see it in my mind's eye. Though she started out as a portrait photographer to the wealthy in San Francisco, the Great Depression and lean years that followed led Lange's career in a different direction.

As the economic collapse too
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Strong willed, determined and a compassionate woman, that was Dorothea Lange. Arriving in San Francisco with every intention of starting on a world tour, beginning in Hawaii, was not meant to be. Thanks to a pickpocket the money for this trip was stolen and she and her girlfriend were only left with $3.00 to their names. The year was 1918,..they were young and they were resilient. San Francisco became their home. Once settled it doesn't take long for Dorothea to become a celebrated portrait phot ...more
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
I come from a long line of amateur photographers, so I’ve long been familiar with the real Dorothea Lange’s work. Reading a fictionalized version of her life, then, was something I was eager to do. Having read and enjoyed author Elise Hooper’s freshman outing, The Other Alcott, I was familiar with her crisp, no-nonsense style, one that makes her extrapolations feel like proper docu-dramas. In this case, I imagined Katharine Hepburn playing the lead character, though I’m not sure why. Possibly be ...more
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Although a New Englander by birth (and at heart), Elise now lives with her husband and two young daughters within stone-skipping distance of the Pacific Northwest’s Puget Sound. When she’s not writing, she’s in her classroom making American history and literature interesting for high school students.

Follow Elise on Instagram to see more of what she's reading: @elisehooper
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