25 Books to Read Before You Die

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The Wilson Quarterly


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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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

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

Saul Bellow: Letters by Saul Bellow

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

The Flight of the Intellectuals by Paul Berman

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

The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement by David Brooks

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

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

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

The Gun by C. J. Chivers

The Concise Dictionary of Dress by Judith Clark

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

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

About a Mountain by John D'Agata

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor

The Union War by Gary W. Gallagher

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

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

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

Abigail Adams by Woody Holton

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

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

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

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

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

The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 by Joel Kotkin

Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War by Michael Kranish

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

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

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

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

Yours Ever: People and Their Letters by Thomas Mallon

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

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

Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus

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

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

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

The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn

Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture by Darrin Nordahl

Shakespeare the Thinker by A. D. Nuttall

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

A Dictionary of 20th-Century Communism by Silvio Pons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard

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

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

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

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

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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