On February 12, 1926, Van Doren entered the world in New York City. His father Mark was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, and his mother was a novelist. Continuing his family's love of learning and language, Van Doren earned a bachelor's degree from St. John's College. He also received a master's degree in astrophysics and a doctorate in English from Columbia University. A student for a time at the University of Cambridge, Van Doren then took a teaching position at Columbia.
In 1956 he wanted to test his knowledge and applied to be a contestant on Tic-Tac-Dough
. Instead Van Doren gained acceptance on the quiz show Twenty-One
where for 14 consecutive weeks he successfully answered questions, winning $129,000. NBC hired him for the Today
show as a fill-in host. All came to a end when contestants alleged that the quiz show producers cheated. In front of a United States Congressional inquiry, Van Doren acknowledged that the show's producers had provided him with answers. For speaking the truth, Van Doren lost his Today
show job and his teaching position.
In a world that forgets misbehavior quickly and often allows second chances, Van Doren found he could regroup. Moving to Chicago he became an editor at both Praeger Books
and the Encyclopedia Britannica
. As an author, his book titles include A History of Knowledge
, The Joy of Reading
, and How to Read a Book
, co-authored with Mortimer J. Adler. Currently Van Doren is an adjunct professor at the University of Connecticut, Torrington branch.
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