Brain Candy Sale


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
Sort: by date | by title | by author

Abigail Adams by Woody Holton

About a Mountain by John D'Agata

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Concise Dictionary of Dress by Judith Clark

Cowboys Full: The Story of Poker by James McManus

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

A Dictionary of 20th-Century Communism by Silvio Pons

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

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

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

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

The Flight of the Intellectuals by Paul Berman

Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War by Michael Kranish

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

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

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

Grant Wood: A Life by R. Tripp Evans

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

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

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

The Gun by C. J. Chivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History by Samuel Moyn

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

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

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

Makeshift Metropolis: Ideas about Cities by Witold Rybczynski

Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable

Memoir: A History by Ben Yagoda

Muriel Spark: The Biography by Martin Stannard

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

The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050 by Joel Kotkin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Public Produce: The New Urban Agriculture by Darrin Nordahl

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

Saul Bellow: Letters by Saul Bellow

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

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

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

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

Shakespeare the Thinker by A. D. Nuttall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski

The Union War by Gary W. Gallagher

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

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

What Darwin Got Wrong by Jerry Fodor

Yours Ever: People and Their Letters by Thomas Mallon

Click here to subscribe
Subscribe to the Wilson Quarterly and Save $$$...

Get 4 issues of the Wilson Quarterly for just $20....The award-winning newsmagazine of the world of ideas delivered to you at a remarkable savings of 28% off the newsstand price!

Click here to subscribe now! spacer

  • back to top


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