Best in Fall History 2013: #2 The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin

Best in Fall History 2013:

#7 Lincoln in the World by Kevin Perraino
#6 Command and Control by Eric Schlosser
#5 One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson
#4 The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan
#2 Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings

#2 The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin

history of america in 101 objectsIn 2011 Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, released A History of the World in 100 Objects. Featuring 100 chapters highlighting a specific historical item in the British Museum’s collection, each one roughly 7 pages and richly illustrated, the book was a major non-fiction hit that year. The work also spawned numerous related titles; there have been a multitude of “History of X in Y Objects” release in the past 18 months, but none have truly eclipsed the original. Until now (perhaps). It would seem that the Smithsonian Institute may have been a mite jealous of the acclaim lavished on MacGregor’s book, for late in October their rival tome hits the shelves: The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects. Despite the blatantly obvious one-upmanship of the title, Smithsonian’s 101 looks to be a fabulous text. Organized by Richard Kurin, Undersecretary for Art, History and Culture, this is a full color homage both to America and the amazing series of collections housed at the Smithsonian.

Some objects that fill the book you would expect – Abraham Lincoln’s stove pipe hat, Dorothy’s Ruby Slipper’s from The Wizard of Oz, the B-29 Enola Gay Bomber which dropped the first atomic weapon on Hiroshima – but others – a slave’s shackles, a damaged fire truck door from a first responder to the 9/11 tragedy – can fill the reader with shame, honor or just simple awe at the physical embodiment of history. Each item, besides telling of the basic history surrounding it, also features information on just how it reached the Smithsonian, which can often make for even more surprising reading. The result is a work that is continually being referred to as “addictive” and “fantastic” by early reviewers. The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects looks to do everything Neil MacGregor’s book did, only bigger and better.

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