The Lost World of James Smithson

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

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Description

In 1836 the United States government received a strange and unprecedented gift - a bequest of 104,960 gold sovereigns (then worth half a million dollars) to establish a foundation in Washington 'for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men'. The Smithsonian Institution, as it would eventually be called, grew into the largest museum and research complex in the world. Yet it owes its existence to an Englishman who never set foot in the United States, and who has remained a shadowy figure for more than a hundred and fifty years. Smithson lived a restless life in the capitals of Europe during the turbulent years of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars; at one time he was trailed by the French secret police, and later languished as a prisoner of war in Denmark for four long years. Yet despite a certain a penchant for gambling and fine living, he had, by the time of his death in Paris in 1829, amassed a financial fortune and a wealth of scientific papers that he left to the new democracy America. Spurned by his natural father and his country, he would be acknowledged for his own achievements in the New World. Drawing on unpublished diaries and letters from archives all over Europe and the United States, Heather Ewing tells the full and compelling story for the first time, revealing a life lived at the heart of the English Enlightenment and illuminating the mind that sparked the creation of America's greatest museum.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 448 pages
  • 164 x 236 x 44mm | 798.34g
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 074757653X
  • 9780747576532
  • 2,173,176

About Heather Ewing

Heather Ewing is a graduate of Yale University and the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is currently a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution, where she works as an architectural historian. The Lost World of James Smithson is her first book. She lives in New York.show more

Rating details

72 ratings
3.43 out of 5 stars
5 10% (7)
4 39% (28)
3 38% (27)
2 12% (9)
1 1% (1)
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