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Scan Artist
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By Marcia Biederman

The best-known educator of the 20th century was a scammer in cashmere. "The most famous reading teacher in the world," as television hosts introduced her, Evelyn Wood had little classroom experience, no degrees in reading instruction, and a background that included cooperation with the Third Reich. Nevertheless, a nation spooked by Sputnik and panicked by paperwork eagerly embraced her promises of a speed-reading revolution. Journalists, lawmakers and two US presidents lent credibility to Wood's claims of turbocharging reading speeds through a method once compared to the miracle at Lourdes. A royal-born Wood grad said she'd polished off Moby Dick in three hours; a senator swore he finished one book per lunchtime. Fudging test results, and squelching critics, Wood founded a company that enrolled half a million. The course's popularity endured even as science proved that her system taught only skimming, with disastrous effects on comprehension. As apps and online courses attempt to spark a speed-reading revival, this engaging look at Wood's rise from missionary to marketer exposes the pitfalls of wishful thinking.

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