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

The Man Who Built the Castle

A review by David Lindley

Gracing the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with several splendid buildings, the Smithsonian Institution is a huge tourist attraction, a repository of art and culture, and a pioneering center of scientific research. As is well known, this singular American institution, encompassing 19 museums and nine research centers, came about because of a quirk in the will of an Englishman who gallivanted around Europe all his life but never crossed the Atlantic. Luckily for us, the man born Jacques Louis Macie changed his name in midlife to James Smithson, hoping to gain an ounce more respect in the salons of London and Paris. It would have been hard to turn "Macie" into a mellifluous name to etch into stone.

Architectural historian Heather Ewing cannot be faulted for failing to summon a full portrait of the man. A disastrous 1865 fire at the Smithsonian destroyed Smithson's letters and notes along with his scientific collections. Scouring libraries and private collections throughout Europe,...



Previously Reviewed by The Wilson Quarterly
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Fighting Chance: The Struggle Over Woman Suffrage and Black Suffrage in Reconstruction America by Faye E. Dudden

For a moment amid the ferment after the Civil War, it seemed possible to at least some Americans that women would win the right to vote. The abolition of slavery put broad questions of voting rights and citizenship on the table, and legislators were eager to act. Women suffragists hoped their time...


Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams by Charles King

The 20th century defies nostalgia and mocks historical categories. For historians and others concerned with European civilization, the Holocaust disfigures the natural reflex to make sense of the past. Historians of contemporary Europe often pay little attention to the extermination of its Jews...


The Union War by Gary W. Gallagher

Many historians who specialize in other periods of U.S. history regard the Civil War as the bastion of antiquarians. Their irritation is inflamed by the public's unending fascination with the war, reflected in the impressive sales figures for academic studies in the field (which swamp those of...


Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff

With the current rage for the Founding Fathers, it is not surprising that their homegrown enemies would spark new interest. Historians have long regarded the loyalists -- those who remained faithful to the Crown during the Revolutionary War -- with a jaundiced eye, dismissing them as backward...


Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

In 1965, a fascinating political voice was silenced when a team of assassins gunned down Malcolm X, a man whose intellectual and religious journey had finally transformed him into an eloquent spokesman for human equality. No comprehensive and credible biography of this signally important black...


Prime Movers of Globalization: The History and Impact of Diesel Engines and Gas Turbines by Vaclav Smil

When we think of global power, we think of political or military might or the clout of big corporations. We certainly don't ponder horsepower, a unit of measure originally developed to compare the output of steam engines with the pulling power of draft horses. Vaclav Smil wants to change that. In...


Song of Wrath: The Peloponnesian War Begins by J. E. Lendon

"The growth of the power of Athens, and the alarm which this inspired in Sparta, made war inevitable," wrote Thucydides in his fifth-century BC chronicle of the Peloponnesian War. Most scholars have accepted his explanation for the causes of the three-decade struggle that reshaped the Greek world...


Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain by Antonio Damasio

As you read this review, your brain is undergoing changes by the millisecond. These words and sentences are stimulating ideas and emotions based on your brain's current organization and content, which are reflective of all your experiences up to the present moment. Additional changes will occur as...


Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary by Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the kind of figure who almost makes you wish there were more intellectuals in American political life. The problem is, there was only one Moynihan. Professor, bureaucrat, presidential adviser, ambassador, and finally U.S. senator from New York from 1977 to 2001, he could ...


Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age by Susan Jacoby

In separate books, Ted C. Fishman and Susan Jacoby both cry crisis, but in different registers of alarm. Their common theme is the disruptive effects, on nations and individuals, of the coming worldwide increase in the ranks of the aged. Fishman tends toward dispassion; Jacoby, toward exasperation. ...


Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas about Cities by Witold Rybczynski

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us by David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam

The Age of Auden: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene by Aidan Wasley

Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders by Nathan Hodge

Preaching with Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons, 1750 to the Present by Martha Simmons

Not Quite Adults: Why 20-Somethings Are Choosing a Slower Path to Adulthood, and Why It's Good for Everyone by Richard Settersten and Barbara Ray

How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell

A Dictionary of 20th-Century Communism by Silvio Pons

Saul Bellow: Letters by Saul Bellow

Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (American Empire Project) by Andrew Bacevich

Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin

The Disappearing Center: Engaged Citizens, Polarization, and American Democracy by Alan I. Abramowitz

Books as Weapons: Propaganda, Publishing, and the Battle for World Markets in the Era of World War II by John B. Hench

The Concise Dictionary of Dress by Judith Clark

The Passport in America: The History of a Document by Craig Robertson

Voyager: Seeking Newer Worlds in the Third Great Age of Discovery by Stephen J. Pyne

A Global Life: My Journey Among Rich and Poor, from Sydney to Wall Street to the World Bank by James D. Wolfensohn

Invasion of the Mind Snatchers: Television's Conquest of America in the Fifties by Eric Burns

Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America's Food Answers to a Higher Authwhy More and More of America's Food Answers to a Higher Au by Sue Fishkoff

The Gun by C. J. Chivers

The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Grant Wood: A Life by R. Tripp Evans

Stranger from Abroad: Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness by Daniel Maier-Katkin

Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine (Africa in World History) by James C. McCann

Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History by Simon Winder

The Great Oom: The Improbable Birth of Yoga in America by Robert Love

Seeking the Cure: A History of Medicine in America by Ira Rutkow

Strange Days Indeed: The 1970s: The Golden Days of Paranoia by Francis Wheen

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee

Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character by Claude S. Fischer

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise by George Prochnik

Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard

The Flight of the Intellectuals by Paul Berman

From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time by Sean Carroll

The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play by James C. Whorton

The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today by Ted Conover

Seeing the Light: Religious Colleges in Twenty-First-Century America by Samuel Schuman

Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War by Michael Kranish

Paradise Beneath Her Feet: How Women Are Transforming the Middle East by Isobel Coleman

A Great Unrecorded History: A New Life of E. M. Forster by Wendy Moffat

About a Mountain by John D'Agata

First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process by Robert D. Richardson

Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman

Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary: With Additional Material from a Thesaurus of Old English by Christian Kay

Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture by Darrin Nordahl

What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor

Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda

Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less Are the Keys to Sustainability by David Owen

Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World by David L. Bosco

Abigail Adams by Woody Holton

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America by Richard Benjamin

Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus

Yours Ever: People and Their Letters by Thomas Mallon

The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America Its Name by Toby Lester

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 by Joel Kotkin

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

Shakespeare the Thinker by A. D. Nuttall

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe's America by Andrew. Ferguson


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