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Cover of The Inventors

Peter Selgin

The Inventors

  • Introduction by Lidia Yuknavitch
  • nonfiction / memoir
  • ISBN 978-0-9893604-7-0

In the Fall of 1970, at the start of eighth grade, Peter Selgin fell in love with the young teacher who’d arrived from Oxford wearing Frye boots, with long blond hair, and a passion for his students that was as intense as it was rebellious. The son of an emotionally remote inventor, Peter was also a twin competing for the attention and affection of his parents. He had a burning need to feel special.

The new teacher supplied that need. Together they spent hours in the teacher’s carriage house, discussing books, playing chess, drinking tea, and wrestling. They were inseparable, until the teacher “resigned” from his job and left. Over the next ten years Peter and the teacher corresponded copiously and met occasionally, their last meeting ending in disaster. Only after the teacher died did Peter learn that he’d done all he could to evade his past, identifying himself first as an orphaned Rhodes Scholar, and later as a Native American.

As for Peter’s father, the genius with the English accent who invented the first dollar-bill changing machine, he was the child of Italian Jews—something else Peter discovered only after his death. Paul Selgin and the teacher were both self-inventors, creatures of their own mythology, inscrutable men whose denials and deceptions betrayed the trust of the boy who looked up to them.

The Inventors is the story of a man’s search for his father and a boy’s passionate relationship with his teacher, of how these two enigmas shaped that boy’s journey into manhood, filling him with a sense of his own unique destiny. It is a story of promises kept and broken as the author uncovers the truth—about both men, and about himself. For like them—like all of us—Peter Selgin, too, is his own inventor.




Housatonic Book Award in Nonfiction


Katharine Bakeless Nason Prize


Graywolf Press Prize for Nonfiction


AWP Award Series for Creative Nonfiction

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Praise for Peter Selgin

Peter Selgin is a born writer, capable of taking any subject and exploring it from a new angle, with wit, grace, and erudition.

Oliver Sacks

Praise for The Inventors

Peter Selgin’s The Inventors is a remarkable study in remembering, in empathy, and most of all in reckoning.”

Kyle Minor
Author of Praying Drunk

In The Inventors, Peter Selgin unrolls the blueprint of his life, investigating how two men—his father and a charismatic middle school teacher—helped create the man he is today. Lyrical, honest and (dare I say?) inventive, The Inventors is a deeply compelling meditation on how we make and remake ourselves throughout our lives—choice by choice, action by action, word by glorious, slippery word.

Gayle Brandeis
Author of The Book of Dead Birds

I have never read anything like The Inventors, Peter Selgin’s incomparable, brilliant, and achingly human memoir. With this deceptively simple story of the author’s relationships with two self-invented figures—his father, and an influential teacher—and with his own younger self—Selgin has produced a deep core sample of the human condition. Like William Blake, he finds a whole world in a few grains of sand. He has shown, in language remarkably beautiful and accessible, how we are invented, by the people who profess to love and care for us, and by our complicit selves. I was profoundly moved reading this book, by its deep intelligence, its constant sweet, knowing humor, and the recognition in it of myself and everyone I have ever loved.

Peter Nichols
Author of The Rocks and A Voyage for Madmen

The Inventors is a philosophical memoir that grapples with some of the questions regarding how we invent ourselves and how we in turn are invented by others, particularly our mentors. Thanks to Selgin’s autobiographical candor and the vivid details of his telling, these puzzles of identity seem as fresh, engaging, and befuddling as they were when they first bubbled to the surface of our thinking. A smart, tender, compelling book.

Billy Collins
Author of Aimless Love

Peter Selgin writes brilliantly about our mindfulness and forgetting – the necessary inventions and reinventions that help us live. The lies of his father and his eighth grade teacher inevitably enter into this intricate portrait of inner and outer selves. As he inhabits their action, talk, and thought, he teaches and fathers himself. In language most rare for its transparency, Mr. Selgin reminds his readers of the difference between artifice and the genuine. In these remarkable pages, he has become one of the truest of our writers.

Carol Frost
Author of Honeycomb

Peter Selgin’s The Inventors is brilliant, brave and compelling and inventive all at once. This is an intimately intimate rendering not just of Selgin’s coming of age, but indeed his rebirth into a new life of cognitive thought, of making sense of a perplexing world, of inventing out of blood and abstract ideas and hidden histories who, exactly, he is. This is an intelligent and moving book, a gorgeous book, an important book.

Bret Lott
Author of Dead Low Tide

This story is about what we make and how we make it. Selves, lives, love stories, life stories, death stories. It is also the story of how creation and destruction are always the other side of each other. And like the lyric language so gorgeously invented in this book that it nearly killed me, its meanings are endlessly in us. Writers live within language, and so in some ways, you might say we are at the epicenter.

Lidia Yuknavitch
Author of The Chronology of Water

Peter Selgin’s intricately woven memoir, The Inventors, offers a unique, engaging, and occasionally startling examination of how childhood influences bend and shape us into being. Selgin’s candor and intimacy bring to vivid life the Zen koan of how we become the people we become and how we somehow never really know who we are.

Dinty W. Moore
Author of Between Panic & Desire

Only a writer as gifted and insightful as Peter Selgin could have produced this deeply compelling story of two brilliant but extraordinarily deceitful men and the complicated relationships he shared with them. A superb work of memory that unfolds like a great suspense novel.

Sigrid Nunez
Author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag

A reflective investigation of the self, memory, and invention.


[The Inventors] is a book destined to become a modern classic… A remarkable model of the art of the memoir, this book will satisfy all readers. Highly recommended.

Derek Sanderson, Library Journal

What is refreshing about literary memoirs like Peter Selgin’s is how they transform the reader through writing and self-invention. The Inventors is a sensitive examination of how friends and family are responsible for inventing a person.

Jacob Singer, Fiction Advocate

The twin dynamic of father/teacher is used here so masterfully, it’s as if Selgin has created a new kind of memoir…a page-turner of the first order. I couldn’t put this memoir down. I highly recommend The Inventors.

Robert Morgan Fisher, The Rumpus

A memoir that is both beautiful and disturbing— a meditation on life, love , truth and fiction.

Amos Lassen, Blogger

Peter Selgin shines a bright, probing light on the invention of self. He has delivered in The Inventors one home run after another, each giving us a deeper understanding of ourselves by attempting to understand others.

Heather Sharfeddin, The Colorado Review

[S]mart, quirky, and insightful memoir…In addition to its architecture, The Inventors’ approach to textual material is a rich layering of authorial modes that include sweeping reverie, crisp snapshots of memory, philosophical musing, epistemological ephemera, and a mix of second and first-person narration. Selgin moves between these modes with grace.

Alexis Paige, Brevity

A remarkable piece of work, one that held me fast throughout. The Inventors is bound to leave its mark on the mind and the heart.

Vivian Gornick
Author of The Odd Woman and the City

Host Alberto Rios discusses The Inventors with author Peter Selgin. In this memoir, Peter Selgin outlines the beginning of his passion for writing. As the child of an inventor and a twin, Peter always felt he had to compete for his parents’ attention. At the beginning of eighth grade, Peter meets a young teacher who took him under his wing: the two spend hours at the teacher’s cottage, drinking tea, playing chess and discussing books until the teacher resigns.

Arizona PBS Books & Co
Listen to Peter Selgin's interview, here.