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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,...



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

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

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Grant Wood: A Life by R. Tripp Evans

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

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

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

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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

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Yours Ever: People and Their Letters by Thomas Mallon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas about Cities by Witold Rybczynski

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

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

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

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

Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda


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