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America's Library: The Story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000 Hardcover – May, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0300083088 ISBN-10: 0300083084 Edition: 1st

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America's Library: The Story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000 + The Library of Congress: The Art and Architecture of the Thomas Jefferson Building
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Founded in 1800 as a resource for lawmakers, the Library of Congress is one of the greatest libraries in existence, with more than 110 million items in holding, including books in 450 different languages, national documents and art works. Conaway (The Smithsonian) investigates the Library's history from the vantage point of the 13 Librarians of Congress, to illustrate how their experiences and contributions have reflected political and intellectual developments in the U.S. Several Librarians of Congress stayed on for decades, dedicating their lives to the institution. The first, John J. Beckley, appointed in 1802 by President Thomas Jefferson, was confronted with an enormous challenge when the original collection was engulfed in flames during the British's burning of the Capitol by the British in 1812. Aimsworth Rand Spofford, appointed by Abraham Lincoln, succeeded in securing copyright deposit at the Library, thus ensuring its place as the national repository. Appointed by William McKinley, Herbert Putnam made the cataloging system available to U.S. libraries, while Archibald MacLeish, appointed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, established the Library as an important cultural center through his acquisitions and literature programs. The current Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, appointed by Ronald Reagan, has made a good portion of the collection available electronically. This is an engrossing and comprehensive read, as much a history of the people who made the Library of Congress what it is today--a library to the world--as it is a rich chronicle of the magnificent institution. 100 b&w and 12 color illus. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The venerable Library of Congress, source of pride and source of perplexity for America's librarians, has reached its bicentennial. Since its inception in 1800 with the gift to the U.S. of Thomas Jefferson's personal book collection, the library's expansion has paralleled that of the nation it serves. Often opportunistic, driven by political as well as social and educational goals, the Library of Congress has grown on a vast, exuberant scale into the world's premier repository of the printed word. Conaway has chosen to organize his history of this institution around that tiny, hardy band of men and women who have used both political acumen and intellectual vision to build the library's collections and establish those services that make the LC library to both Congress and nation. Richly supplemented with photographs, this history reaches out to touch all who love libraries, not just professional scholars and librarians. Conaway's prose flows smoothly, avoiding jargon and placing the library's history in the context of the nation's development. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; 1 edition (May 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300083084
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300083088
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 7.8 x 10.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #725,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James (Jim) Conaway grew up in Memphis but lived in Europe for several years before moving to Washington, D.C. A former Wallace Stegner fellow at Stanford University, he's the author of three novels including, most recently, Nose, set in northern California, which the Wall Street Journal reviewer said "offers a burst of hearty comic notes and finishes with a lingering penumbra of bittersweet nostalgia," and Kirkus reviewer that "the cheerful complexity of Conaway's novel rivals the richest, most nose-worthy, palate-pleasing Cabernet."
Jim's also the author of nine books of non-fiction, the most recent being "Vanishing America: In Pursuit of Our Elusive Landscapes", described by writer Tracy Kidder as "an enthralling, lovely tribute to a lot of what is precious in America." His previous book, "The Far Side of Eden", was a Washington Post Best Book of the Year in 2002 and a sequel to his best-selling "Napa: The Story of an American Eden", described in the New York Times Book Review as "an important story, emblematic of our time."
His other books include the memoir, "Memphis Afternoons", and "The Kingdom in the Country", a personal journey in a van through the public lands of the American West and described by Stegner as "a very lively book... He got into places and activities that most westerners never even get close to." Author Jim Harrison called it "a wonderful, well-considered evocation of the New West."
Jim's first novel, "The Big Easy", is based on his experiences as a police reporter in New Orleans; his second novel, "World's End", is a Louisiana coastal saga ofr politics and crime described as "a combination of All the King's Men" and "The Godfather."
Jim has written for many magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, Atlantic, Harper's, The New Republic, Gourmet, Smithsonian, and National Geographic Traveler. He divides his time between piedmont Virginia and Washington
Photo at right by Peter Menzel:

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By John M. Ford on December 19, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book presents an interesting overview of 200 years of the Library of Congress. "Overview" describes its strengths and its limitations. It does give a sense of the library's place in our nation's historical timeline. It is a worthwhile read along with Presidents: All You Need to Know to see how major events in the Library's history coincide with the tenure of our presidents and major political and economic developments in our history.

It has the strengths of a good coffee table book. It has attractive photographs that provide readers with a feel for the majesty of the Library's architecture and the look and feel of some of its many books and other documents. It can be read in a hit-or-miss fashion, allowing readers to benefit from whatever they have time to read while waiting by the coffee table for a party or dinner date to begin. My favorite "quick nugget" is the anecdote about one of the Librarians of Congress coming across the last contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets hidden away in a safe, lost and forgotten for decades. Fascinating stuff!

The book disappoints by lacking the more detailed historical treatment you would expect to find on the bookshelf next to your host's coffee table--or on the hallowed shelves of the Library itself. Some of the past Librarians merit greater attention, more analysis of their motives and machinations. The actions of Congress and influential donors of collections could be further connected to concurrent historical events.

My appetite for Library lore was whetted by this offering, but not sated.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on August 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The American Library of Congress holds over 110 million items - many of them unique and priceless - and this charts the history of the Library and its holdings, from its initial 740-book collection begun in 1800 to its miles of bookshelves today. Vintage photos and illustrations pack a presentation which is a 'must' for any who would understand American book history.
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America's Library: The Story of the Library of Congress, 1800-2000
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