The Fictioning Horror Sale
 
 

Recently Viewed clear list


Powell's Q&A | September 3, 2014

Emily St. John Mandel: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Emily St. John Mandel



Describe your latest book. My new novel is called Station Eleven. It's about a traveling Shakespearean theatre company in a post-apocalyptic North... Continue »
  1. $17.47 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    Station Eleven

    Emily St. John Mandel 9780385353304

spacer
Qualifying orders ship free.
$6.50
Used Hardcover
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Add to Wishlist
Qty Store Section
1 Burnside US History- General
2 Local Warehouse US History- General

More copies of this ISBN

The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian

by

The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian Cover

ISBN13: 9781596910294
ISBN10: 1596910291
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
All Product Details

Only 3 left in stock at $6.50!

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

In 1836 the United States government received a strange and unprecedented gift—a half-million dollar bequest to establish a foundation in Washington “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” The Smithsonian Institution, as it would be called, eventually grew into the largest museum and research complex in the world. Yet the man behind what became “Americas attic,” James Smithson, has remained a shadowy figure for more than 150 years. 

 

Drawing on unpublished diaries and letters from across Europe and the United States, historian Heather Ewing tells his compelling story in full. The illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland, Smithson was the youngest member of Britains Royal Society and a talented chemist admired by the greatest scientists of his age. At the same time, however, he was also a suspected spy, an inveterate gambler, and a radical revolutionary during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars. But at the heart of Smithsons story is his bequest—worth $9 million in today in todays currency—which sparked an international lawsuit and a decade-long congressional battle, featuring a dizzying cast of historical figures, including John Quincy Adams, and Alexander Graham Bell, both of whom grappled with how—and even whether—to put Smithsons endowment to use.

 

Fascinating and magisterial, Ewings biography presents a sweeping portrait of a remarkable man at the center of the English Enlightenment and the creation of America's greatest museum.

Heather Ewing is an architectural historian. She has worked for the Smithsonian and the Ringling Museum of Art. She lives in New York.
In 1836, the United States government received a strange and unprecedented gift—a half-million dollar bequest to establish a foundation in Washington “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” The Smithsonian Institution, as it would be called, eventually grew into the largest museum and research complex in the world. Yet the man behind what became “Americas attic,” James Smithson, has remained a shadowy figure for more than 150 years. 

 

Drawing on unpublished diaries and letters from across Europe and the United States, historian Heather Ewing tells his compelling story in full. The illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland, Smithson was the youngest member of Britains Royal Society and a talented chemist admired by the greatest scientists of his age. At the same time, however, he was also a suspected spy, an inveterate gambler, and a radical revolutionary during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars. But at the heart of Smithsons story is his bequest—worth $9 million in todays currency—which sparked an international lawsuit and a decade-long congressional battle, featuring a dizzying cast of historical figures, including John Quincy Adams and Alexander Graham Bell, both of whom grappled with how—and even whether—to put Smithsons endowment to use.

 

Fascinating and magisterial, Ewings biography presents a sweeping portrait of a remarkable man at the center of the English Enlightenment and the creation of America's greatest museum.

"If [Smithson] has now been brought back to life in this book, it is because Ewing has had the ingenuity and perseverance to seek out his story not merely in such papers of Smithson's that survive but in the stories of others. In 'the libraries and archives of Europe, Britain, and the United States,' in 'the papers and diaries of others,' in his bank records and other sources, Ewing—an architectural historian who has worked at the Smithsonian and now lives in New York—has assembled enough evidence so that 'the protean blur of Smithson' gives way to 'a man of infectious exuberance and ambition,' a person with a fascinating (if still essentially mysterious) private life and a scientist of genuine standing and consequence at a time when chemistry, to which he devoted much of his life, was just coming into its own."—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

"The Smithsonian is known to most Americans, whether or not they have visited its main Castle or any of the attendant museums. However, Englishman James Smithson (born James Louis Macie), whose bequest created the Smithsonian, is an enigma. A disastrous fire at the Smithsonian in 1865 destroyed his on-site papers, manuscripts, diaries, equipment, and more. Seeking to build a picture of this man and discover what prompted his bequest to the United States, architectural historian Ewing has little to work with as she digs deep into the past, but she follows every scrap of information, from letters to bank records, and comes up with a vigorous picture of Smithson as a son, friend, companion, man, uncle, and scientist. She also marvelously re-creates the age in which Smithson lived, detailing his travels, his friends and their complicated relationships in society, his scientific contributions and connections, the politics of his times, the excitement new discoveries brought to science, as well as the excitement in society generally, with events such as the American Revolution and the French Revolution. Required for history of science collections and highly recommended for all libraries."—Library Journal

"This pleasing biography . . . tells the story of the enigmatic Englishman who left the United States a vast sum of money to found 'an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.' Ewing, an architectural historian who has worked at the Smithsonian, traces John Smithson's development as a 'gentleman-scientist,' describing his study of chemistry at Oxford in the 1780s; his membership in the Coffee House Philosophical Society, where learned men discussed scientific news; and his well-received scientific papers. Two of the most fascinating chapters focus on Smithson's will. Ewing hazards a few suggestions about why an English scientist would leave a huge bequest to the United States government, and she examines the controversy Smithson's gift set off—some argued against accepting what they viewed as Smithson's self-aggrandizing bequest. This book is possible only because Ewing is a dogged researcher in countless archives. References to Smithson in his friends' letters and diaries reveal not the dour recluse historians had once thought him to be but an exuberant if eccentric man with a zeal for learning and for life. Ewing ably conveys all this as well as the mysterious roots of the institution that bears his name."—Publishers Weekly

"Smithson (1765-1829) was the British chemist, mineralogist, and philanthropist whose $500,000 gift to the U.S. helped establish the Smithsonian Institution in 1836. The bequest to build the foundation in Washington 'for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men' resulted in an international lawsuit and a decade-long congressional feud. Ewing, an architectural historian, found documents relevant to Smithson's story that revealed facts concerning his mother (lawsuits exposed her manic profligacy and made clear that she left her son much less than she might have) and uncovered his writings on the subject of chemistry, to which he dedicated his life. Most of them were written in an antique language now indecipherable except to a few specialists. As background, Ewing recounts the history of England from 1782 to 1807, much of it focused on Oxford University, where Smithson studied. Ewing has written a hugely ambitious biography that is likely to be the definitive one on the subject."—George Cohen, Booklist

Review:

"This pleasing biography (the second recent one of Smithson, after 2003's The Stranger and the Statesman by Nina Burleigh) tells the story of the enigmatic Englishman who left the United States a vast sum of money to found 'an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.' Ewing, an architectural historian who has worked at the Smithsonian, traces John Smithson's development as a 'gentleman-scientist,' describing his study of chemistry at Oxford in the 1780s; his membership in the Coffee House Philosophical Society, where learned men discussed scientific news; and his well-received scientific papers. Two of the most fascinating chapters focus on Smithson's will. Ewing hazards a few suggestions about why an English scientist would leave a huge bequest to the United States government, and she examines the controversy Smithson's gift set off — some argued against accepting what they viewed as Smithson's self-aggrandizing bequest. This book is possible only because Ewing is a dogged researcher in countless archives. References to Smithson in his friends' letters and diaries reveal not the dour recluse historians had once thought him to be but an exuberant if eccentric man with a zeal for learning and for life. Ewing ably conveys all this as well as the mysterious roots of the institution that bears his name. Illus." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"On the rim of the National Mall, across the street from the wonderful pile of red sandstone called the Smithsonian Castle, stands a bust that appears to go unnoticed by virtually all of the thousands who pass by it every day. In a city of statues, many others are unnoticed or neglected, in some cases with ample reason, yet this one is of a man without whom the Smithsonian Institution — perhaps, indeed,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Synopsis:

Fascinating and magisterial, Ewing's biography presents a sweeping portrait of a remarkable man at the center of the English Enlightenment and the creation of America's greatest museum.

Synopsis:

In 1836 the United States government received a strange and unprecedented gift--a half-million dollar bequest to establish a foundation in Washington "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The Smithsonian Institution, as it would be called, eventually grew into the largest museum and research complex in the world. Yet the man behind what became "America's attic," James Smithson, has remained a shadowy figure for more than 150 years. 

 

Drawing on unpublished diaries and letters from across Europe and the United States, historian Heather Ewing tells his compelling story in full. The illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland, Smithson was the youngest member of Britain's Royal Society and a talented chemist admired by the greatest scientists of his age. At the same time, however, he was also a suspected spy, an inveterate gambler, and a radical revolutionary during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars. But at the heart of Smithson's story is his bequest--worth $9 million in today in today's currency--which sparked an international lawsuit and a decade-long congressional battle, featuring a dizzying cast of historical figures, including John Quincy Adams, and Alexander Graham Bell, both of whom grappled with how--and even whether--to put Smithson's endowment to use.

 

Fascinating and magisterial, Ewing's biography presents a sweeping portrait of a remarkable man at the center of the English Enlightenment and the creation of America's greatest museum.

About the Author

Heather Ewing is an architectural historian. She has worked for the Smithsonian and the Ringling Museum of Art. She lives in New York.

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

rollyson2002, September 3, 2012 (view all comments by rollyson2002)
On June 27, 1829, a rather obscure Englishman died in Genoa. He carried with him a receipt for a will stipulating that the bulk of his fortune ��" something like £100,000 (around $50,000,000 today) ��" should be employed by the United States for "an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men."

James Smithson wrote the will himself and omitted the lawyerly language that might have made his bequest clearer. A chemist by training who published a number of narrowly focused scientific papers measuring the amount and action of minerals in various substances, and active in London's Royal Society for the Advancement of Science, Smithson may have intended a museum of natural history ��" or perhaps a laboratory or school. No one knew.

And why America? Early on, Smithson expressed sympathy for the revolutionary cause, but as the illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland, Smithson seemed as much a royalist as a democrat, adopting after his mother's death the name of Smithson (it had been Macie, his mother's first husband's name) as if to reassert his aristocratic prerogatives.

The man was a mystery. South Carolina senator John Calhoun, always suspicious of centralized power, opposed a national museum, especially one endowed by a virtually anonymous Englishman. Accepting Smithson's bequest was "beneath the dignity" of America. John Quincy Adams, on the other hand, still aggrieved over his failure to establish a national university, led the forces that eventually prevailed in establishing an institution that describes itself as "America's national education facility with 19 museums, 9 research centers, and over 140 affiliate museums around the world"��"not to mention its display of Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" and Dorothy's ruby slippers.

But the Smithson mystery deepened in 1865, when a fire in the newly established Smithsonian Institution destroyed his papers. Heather Ewing begins her new biography, "The Lost World of James Smithson" (Bloomsbury, 349 pages, $29.95), by making it seem that Smithson's story has irrevocably vanished, which of course makes her heroic efforts to recover a sense of Smithson from public documents and from the diaries and letters of his friends all the more laudable.

Ms. Ewing has turned up valuable new material, bringing to light her subject's "lost world," but whenever his own words and papers are missing, the diligent biographer heads for quaint, entertaining tidbits ��" such as this description of John Graham's "Temple of Health and Hymen," an institution capitalizing on the public's "newfound curiosity for electrical experiments and their ageold interest in sex":

Visitors willing to pay an exorbitant fee could allegedly cure their infertility with a night in the massive "Celestial Bed," in which silk sheets performed "in oriental manner" atop mattresses stuffed with the "most springy hair, produced at vast expense from the tails of English stallions." The bed's domed canopy, supported by forty pillars of colored glass, contained a series of artificial lodestones or magnets, providing the participants with "the exhilarating force of electrical fire."

Remember, these were prehistoric days before you could hook yourself up to a car battery.

This is all very jolly, but in the end Ms. Ewing has to resort to the bane of all biographers: the "must have been." She does not know much about what Smithson really thought, but she is sure about what "must have been." The results of all her probablys and likelys are tenuous, if suggestive.

In "The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and The Making of America's Greatest Museum: The Smithsonian" (2003), Nina Burleigh has written a tauter, more penetrating biography. Instead of trying to stretch her data, Ms. Burleigh asks pointed questions. Why didn't Smithson marry? Why didn't he give his money to the Royal Society? Because, Ms. Ewing answers, he had a falling out with his colleagues. But then why not another august British institution, Ms. Burleigh asks. Her questions, it seems to me, are more instructive than Ms. Ewing's nugatory speculations.

Smithson's motivations remain a puzzle, though Ms. Burleigh has a final surmise of her own that strikes home. Northumberland never publicly acknowledged his illegitimate son, and Smithson knew that if he did not "specify a contingent use for his money and his nephew died, the estate would revert to the government of England." Whatever else America was, it was a new world, one where Smithson's name could be recognized in its own right rather than absorbed into England's treasury.

Ms. Ewing makes a similar point, that Smithson's life was all about seeking "identity, prestige, and progress," but her narrative is tricked out with too many suppositions that make its arrival at that fundamental point a rather tedious affair.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No

Product Details

ISBN:
9781596910294
Author:
Ewing, Heather
Publisher:
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Author:
Ewing, Heather P.
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
History
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Scientists
Subject:
United States - 19th Century
Subject:
Scientists - General
Subject:
Smithsonian Institution - History
Subject:
Smithson, James
Subject:
Biography-Historical
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Series Volume:
Science, Revolution,
Publication Date:
20070431
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
bandw
Pages:
448
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.13 in

Other books you might like

  1. Stumbling on Happiness
    Used Trade Paper $8.50
  2. Anna Karenina Used Mass Market $1.95
  3. Odawa Language and Legends: Andrew... New Trade Paper $21.99
  4. Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for...
    Used Trade Paper $8.95

Related Subjects

Biography » Historical
Biography » Science and Technology
History and Social Science » US History » 19th Century
History and Social Science » US History » General

The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.50 In Stock
Product details 448 pages Bloomsbury Publishing PLC - English 9781596910294 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "This pleasing biography (the second recent one of Smithson, after 2003's The Stranger and the Statesman by Nina Burleigh) tells the story of the enigmatic Englishman who left the United States a vast sum of money to found 'an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.' Ewing, an architectural historian who has worked at the Smithsonian, traces John Smithson's development as a 'gentleman-scientist,' describing his study of chemistry at Oxford in the 1780s; his membership in the Coffee House Philosophical Society, where learned men discussed scientific news; and his well-received scientific papers. Two of the most fascinating chapters focus on Smithson's will. Ewing hazards a few suggestions about why an English scientist would leave a huge bequest to the United States government, and she examines the controversy Smithson's gift set off — some argued against accepting what they viewed as Smithson's self-aggrandizing bequest. This book is possible only because Ewing is a dogged researcher in countless archives. References to Smithson in his friends' letters and diaries reveal not the dour recluse historians had once thought him to be but an exuberant if eccentric man with a zeal for learning and for life. Ewing ably conveys all this as well as the mysterious roots of the institution that bears his name. Illus." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Synopsis" by , Fascinating and magisterial, Ewing's biography presents a sweeping portrait of a remarkable man at the center of the English Enlightenment and the creation of America's greatest museum.
"Synopsis" by ,
In 1836 the United States government received a strange and unprecedented gift--a half-million dollar bequest to establish a foundation in Washington "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The Smithsonian Institution, as it would be called, eventually grew into the largest museum and research complex in the world. Yet the man behind what became "America's attic," James Smithson, has remained a shadowy figure for more than 150 years. 

 

Drawing on unpublished diaries and letters from across Europe and the United States, historian Heather Ewing tells his compelling story in full. The illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland, Smithson was the youngest member of Britain's Royal Society and a talented chemist admired by the greatest scientists of his age. At the same time, however, he was also a suspected spy, an inveterate gambler, and a radical revolutionary during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars. But at the heart of Smithson's story is his bequest--worth $9 million in today in today's currency--which sparked an international lawsuit and a decade-long congressional battle, featuring a dizzying cast of historical figures, including John Quincy Adams, and Alexander Graham Bell, both of whom grappled with how--and even whether--to put Smithson's endowment to use.

 

Fascinating and magisterial, Ewing's biography presents a sweeping portrait of a remarkable man at the center of the English Enlightenment and the creation of America's greatest museum.

spacer
spacer
  • back to top
Follow us on...




Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.