Boorstin, Daniel J.

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BOORSTIN, DANIEL J. (1914–2004), U.S. historian. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, he joined the University of Chicago in 1944, and became professor of American history in 1956. He also had a law degree and was a member of the Massachusetts Bar. Subsequently he served as director of the National Museum of American History and senior historian of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, d.c. From 1975 to 1987 he was librarian of Congress, where he established the Center for the Book in 1977 to promote books, reading, libraries, and literacy. Among his early works are Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (1948); The Genius of American Politics (1953); America and the Image of Europe (1960); The Image (1962); The Decline of Radicalism (1969); The Sociology of the Absurd (1970); and two volumes of the Landmark History of the American People (1968/70). His highly acclaimed trilogy The Americans (1958, 1965, 1973) advanced the thesis that the American experience was shaped by the environment of the New World. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the third volume, The Democratic Experience, and also won the Parkman and Bancroft prizes. In 1989 he received the National Book Award for Distiguished Contributions to American Letters. A second popular trilogy describes man's pursuit of knowledge, artistic expression, and philosophic truth. This includes The Discoverers (1983), The Creators (1992), and The Seekers (1998). Cleopatra's Nose, a volume of "Essays on the Unexpected," appeared in 1994. In 1995 the Modern Library published The Daniel J. Boorstin Reader and in 2000 Greenwood Press published Daniel J. Boorstin: A Comprehensive and Selectively Annotated Bibliography, compiled by Angela Michele Leonard and containing over 1,300 items. "For me," Boorstin said, "the task of the historian is not to chisel a personal or definitive view of the past on concrete. Rather, it is to see the iridescence of the past, fully aware that it will have a new and unsuspected iridescence in the future."


Y. French, in: Library of Congress Information Bulletin (Jan. 2001).