Synopses & Reviews
It was one of the nineteenth century's greatest philanthropic gifts -- and one of its most puzzling mysteries. In 1829, a wealthy English naturalist named James Smithson left his library, mineral collection, and entire fortune to "the United States of America, to found ... an establishment for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men" -- even though he had never visited the United States or known any Americans.
In this fascinating book, Nina Burleigh pieces together the reclusive benefactor's life and painstaking scientific pursuits, and discloses how his bequest was nearly lost due to political infighting until several heroes, including former president John Quincy Adams, saw to it that Smithson's curious notion was realized in 1846. The result was the Smithsonian: a castle housing the United States' first and greatest cultural and scientific establishment, one that has since funded thousands of scientific and exploratory projects around the world and given the nation's capital an enduring cultural foundation.
About the Author
Nina Burleigh is a journalist and the author of A Very Private Woman: The Life and Unsolved Murder of Mary Meyer. Burleigh's journalism career covers twenty years of local and national politics, law, crime, and popular culture. She has traveled widely in the United States, covering American elections, and in the Middle East, reporting from inside Iraq during the 1990s for Timeand other publications. Her articles have appeared in Time, People, US Weekly, the Washington Post, Elle, and New Yorkmagazine. Burleigh lives in New York and Paris with her husband, Erik Freeland, a photographer, and their children.