“Scan Artist” How Evelyn Wood Convinced the World That Speed Reading Worked

November 19th, 2019

6:30 pm - 7:30 pm

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The 1950s and 60s, in America was an era of record-setting, many sought ways to process information as quickly as possible. An ambitious middle-aged woman offered a solution that would alter reading education for decades to come.


Her speed-reading method promised a bright future for Americans—one where they could read an entire book in half an hour without any loss of comprehension. A self-proclaimed reading expert who hailed her method as “the greatest thing since the printing press,” Evelyn Wood’s courses enrolled hundreds of thousands in major cities across America, Canada and parts of Europe. But grandiose claims fell short as her method proved to be nothing more than skimming. Scan Artist is the first telling of this great 20th century hoax. 


Part of this surprising story is set in Westport, home of Famous Artists Schools Inc, which owned the Evelyn Wood business for a decade, maintaining Wood as a consultant. When sales flagged, a Westport marketing wizard helped Wood stage a triumphant comeback. 


A cautionary tale, Scan Artist: How Evelyn Wood Convinced the World That Speed Reading Worked by author Marcia Biederman explains how the massive popularity of Evelyn Wood’s speed-enhancing instruction dominated over science and objectivity. The post-World War II years brought a wave of reading-improvement courses as the ranks of college students and white-collar workers swelled. Eager to enter the speed-reading wars, Evelyn Wood, a devout Mormon with a theatrical bent and a past involving cooperation with Nazism, launched Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics in 1959. Claiming that whole pages could be read at one gulp with her finger-pacing system, Wood said she could boost reading speeds past 10,000 words per minute. A gullible press and support from political figures who knew nothing about reading education—including Senator Edward M. Kennedy and President Jimmy Carter— shielded Wood from the researchers, skeptics and consumer advocates who tried to bring her down. 


Featuring a collection of black and white photographs, Scan Artist is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the dangers of ignoring science in favor of wishful thinking. 


Online pre-registration $8 for members, $12 for non-members. At the door, $10 suggested admission for members, $15 for non-members.  Reservations are recommended, register online here or call (203) 222-1424 x5. 

Tickets are nonrefundable. In the event you must cancel, we will consider your purchase a donation and will happily issue you a donation receipt. 


About the Author: 

Marcia Biederman has contributed more than 150 articles to the New York Times. She was a staff reporter for Crain’s New York Business and her work has appeared in New York Magazine, the New York Observer, and Newsday. She is also the author of Popovers and Candlelight: Patricia Murphy and the Rise and Fall of a Restaurant Empire. She lives in New York. 


 To learn more about Scan Artist and the author visit, marciabiederman.com