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

Ewing, Heather

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9781596910294: The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian

In 1836 the United States government received a strange and unprecedented gift--a half-million dollar bequest to establish a foundation in Washington "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." The Smithsonian Institution, as it would be called, eventually grew into the largest museum and research complex in the world. Yet the man behind what became "America's attic," James Smithson, has remained a shadowy figure for more than 150 years. 
 
Drawing on unpublished diaries and letters from across Europe and the United States, historian Heather Ewing tells his compelling story in full. The illegitimate son of the Duke of Northumberland, Smithson was the youngest member of Britain's Royal Society and a talented chemist admired by the greatest scientists of his age. At the same time, however, he was also a suspected spy, an inveterate gambler, and a radical revolutionary during the turbulent years of the Napoleonic Wars. But at the heart of Smithson's story is his bequest--worth $9 million in today in today's currency--which sparked an international lawsuit and a decade-long congressional battle, featuring a dizzying cast of historical figures, including John Quincy Adams, and Alexander Graham Bell, both of whom grappled with how--and even whether--to put Smithson's endowment to use.
 
Fascinating and magisterial, Ewing's biography presents a sweeping portrait of a remarkable man at the center of the English Enlightenment and the creation of America's greatest museum.

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Heather Ewing is an architectural historian. She has worked for the Smithsonian and the Ringling Museum of Art. She lives in New York.

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Book Description Bloomsbury USA, New York, 2007. Hard Cover. Book Condition: New. Dust Jacket Condition: New. First Edition. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. This Stated First U.S. Edition (and if it isn't stated, it's not) is also a First Printing, with the required "number line" starting with a "1". The illegitimate son of the first Duke of Northumberland, James Smithson's love of science and invention illustrates the late 18th Century culture that science held the promise of transforming society. Smithson was also the man who left his fortune to be founded in Washington an "establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men," which was the Birth of the Smithsonian Institution, even though Smithson had never set foor in the U.S. The book includes color and black-and-white inserts and an extensive Index. The book is bound in blue boards with die-stamped gilt spine titles. The book measures 6 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches and includes 432 pages. Bookseller Inventory # 001277

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