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Smart and Famous People Who Learned to Read Early On

Does Reading Early Make a Child Smart? Or Does a Child Need to be Smart to Learn to Read Early?

The human race has produced some extremely brilliant minds and thinkers throughout history, and many of these highly intelligent individuals had learned to read at an early age - many as young as 2 or 3 years old. The proverbial chicken and egg question you might ask is are they smart because they learned to read early, or were they able to read early because they were exceptionally smart? So which is it?

To that I have no answer, and I bet they don't have the answer either. However, while there's no definitive answer to the aforementioned chicken and egg question, I can say with complete certainty that "give me any NORMAL young child, with no learning disabilities, and I can teach that child to read, even if he or she was just 2 or 3 years old." The premise of my argument is that while I can't claim whether learning to read early will produce exceptionally bright minds, but I can say with a high level of certainty that it does NOT require a child genius to learn to read at a young age! That's a fact.

I have taught all of my children to read at just age 2, soon after they were able to speak clearly, and I have helped thousands of parents successfully teach their children to read, many as young as 2 and 3 years old. By 4 years old, my children were reading chapter books. However, that's not the topic I want to cover here. If you'd like to learn more about teaching your child to read early on, click here. I want to talk about smart and famous individuals who learned to read early on here.

Smart People Who Learned to Read Early

While not all bright minds learned to read early, what you'll find interesting is that reading volume and learning reading early is a prevailing theme for many of the smartest individuals who have walked this earth. We've even highlighted scientific studies and reports which support the idea that reading makes you smarter, and that it can even compensate for modest levels of intelligence (see here).

So here, I'm going to make a list of famous and smart people that read early on, and I'll try to add to and expand this list as I discover more myself. This list is sorted alphabetically (by first name) below.

Francis Galton (1822 - 1911) was a child prodigy that was reading at age 2. He learned to do multiplication and tell time at 4. He produced over 340 papers and books, and is considered an anthropologist, geographer, inventor, meteorologist, psychometrician, and statistician. He was Charles Darwin's half cousin.

John Enoch Powell (1912 - 1998) was a British politician, poet, and writer. He could read ancient Greek at age 5, and had learned 12 different languages during his lifetime. He served as a Conservative Party MP between 1950 and 1974. Before entering politics, he was a classical scholar and was a full professor of ancient Greek at age 25.

Jonathan Swift (1667 - 1745) - reading by 2. Jonathan Swift was a writer and poet, that produced famous works such as Gulliver's Travels, The Battle of the Books, A Modest Proposal, plus many poems and satirical writings.


Les Murray (1938 - ) had taught himself to read at age 4 and is considered to be Australia's greatest living poet. He read the 8 volume Cassell's Encyclopaedia at home. He has published over 30 volumes of poetry and has won many prizes including the T. S. Eliot Prize in 1996.


Patricia Highsmith (1921 - 1995) is an American novelist that learn to read very early. She is most well known for her psychological thrillers, leading to over 20 film adaptations. Her first novel Strangers on a Train has been made into film many times, including an adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock in 1951. The talented Mr. Ripley is also one of her famous works.

Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784) - reading at 2. Dr. Johnson was an English author that has been described as "the most distinguished man of letters in English history." After 9 years of work, he published his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, which was described as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship."

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800 - 1859) - reading by 3. As a British poet and historian, he wrote extensively, and also had a political career. He authored a series of very popular ballads about heroic episodes of Roman history. His most famous work was The History of England from the Accession of James the Second.

Voltaire (Fancois-Maire Arouet 1694 - 1778) - learned to read by age 3. He was a famous French writer, historian, and philosopher. Produced literary works including plays, essays, poetry, novels, and scientific and historical writings. He was also fluent in Italian, English, and Spanish, and produced over 20,000 letters, and 2,000 books and pamphlets.

William Gates III (Bill Gates) - Everyone probably knows Bill Gates as the cofounder of Microsoft and one of the richest men in the world. I'm unsure what age he learned to read, but by age 9, he had already read the entire World Book?Encyclopedia.

William James Sidis (1898 - 1944) was a child prodigy that was a very early reader.  His IQ had been estimated to be between 250 - 300. He entered Harvard at 11 years old and received his degree at 16. By 17, he was teaching mathematics.

So, there you have it, a list of some extremely brilliant minds that were reading very early on. No doubt some will wonder were they early readers because they were child geniuses or prodigies? Well, I don't think there's a fair answer to that question. Certainly, learning to read early is no guarantee that a child will eventually become a genius. There are no studies to prove such. One thing that is certain, however, is that it does NOT require a genius child to learn to read at a very young age. Furthermore, any normal child with no learning disabilities can learn to read, at just 2 or 3 years old. I've done it with all of my kids, I've helped thousands of parents teach their little ones to read, and I can show you how.


>> Click here to watch a short video explaining our learning to read process and how it's possible to teach such young children to read effectively. No word shape memorization, no gimmicks, but real decoding and phonetic reading.