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Cleopatra's Nose: Essays on the Unexpected Hardcover – November 1, 1994


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (November 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679435050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679435051
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,634,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Librarian of Congress emeritus Boorstin (formerly history, Univ. of Chicago) presents a distillation of his ideas on the role of discovery and surprise in history. Some lesser pieces written for particular occasions and an affectionate but perceptive portrait of his father (and mother) round out this collection. The essays emphasize the unexpected as a major consequence of the path-breaking scientific discoveries and the major social, cultural, and political changes that have reshaped the Western world in the last few centuries. Boorstin delights in paradox: scientific discoveries sometimes only increase our ignorance; the new "kingdom of machines" seemingly contradicts the politics of common sense. The writing is fluid and mellow. Recommended for general and academic libraries.
Harry Frumerman, formerly with Hunter Coll., New York
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

The amusingly cryptic title of Boorstin's rigorous essay collection comes from a line of Pascal's: "Cleopatra's nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed." This observation appeals to Boorstin's penetrating sense of history and of "the crucial role of the accidental and the trivial." The Librarian of Congress Emeritus and one of the world's most widely read historians, Boorstin is a skilled essayist. Here he revisits his favorite subjects--American history, exploration, science, and technology--but uses them as conduits for fresh perceptions into our fractured era. He begins by putting a spin on his signature theme of discovery by discussing the value of "negative" discoveries: proving that certain things don't exist or aren't possible. This leads to an illuminating piece on the merging of the discoverer and the inventor, a union that gave life to a new personality: the scientist. In the midst of his thoughts on the role of machines in our lives, Boorstin turns his attention to human nature and presents us with two ardent and shrewd essays about conscience. One examines conscience and the art of writing; the other traces the roots of political correctness to a "startling renaissance of the New England conscience." Boorstin forces us to think clearly about the consequences of "Balkanizing" America and the habit of defining ourselves as victims. One of the many pleasures of reading is watching great minds at work; Boorstin's is one of the finest. Donna Seaman

Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Crocker on January 14, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Cleopatra's Nose by Daniel Boorstin is a very good collection of forwards, introductions, lectures, and articles that Boorstin wrote in the '90s. The collection seems to be loosely held together by two themes: science in today's world thrives on the unexpected and discovering the limits of our knowledge [the more we know, the more we know that we don't know] and that the United States is a different kind of country and that's what makes it such a great country. If you are looking to read a book by Boorstin with one theme, then this is not the book for you. For those readers, I'd recommend The Discoverers, The Creators, and The Seekers. If you are a reader of essays or you are looking for smaller samples of Boorstin's writing, then this could be the book for you. I read it straight through, and despite the repetition of material between some of the essays, I found it to be a quick and thought provoking read.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Toby R. Fuller on November 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
After reading Boorstin's Discoverers, Seekers and Creators this book came as something of a shock. As Oliver Sacks and Stephen Gould have written reflective commentaries on issues in their fields of psychology and natural history repectively; Cleopatra's Nose seemed to be marketed as a similar undertaking by Boorstein to develop reflections on the relationship of historical events to our contemporary lives. As other reviews expressed the book seems disjointed, repetitive, and not the Boorstin style and depth for which he is lauded.
The explanation for this, and what the book jacket does not tell you, is that this book was not written to be a book at all. Cleopatra's Nose is a collection of Boorstin's speeches, articles and forewards ranging from a 1944 magazine article to a 1993 speech. Read the Acknowledgements section, which tells you the time and audience each piece was originally written for, and the essays will be much more significant.
That being understood, this book has a few flahes of Boorstin brilliance, but may be more valuable for understanding the views and life of Daniel Boorstin himself.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on August 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Boorstin is an American treasure with such jewels as The Seekers, the Discoverers, the Creators and the award-winning series on America. He has ventured further and further afield from "pure" American history as he has matured. Or perhaps he understands that "history" is more than dates, battles, places, royalty, marriages and wars. More than anything else, history is about people and in this area, Boorstin shines.
This series of essays concerns the improbable or I should say the unexpected in various realms, mainly science and history. As a Euro-centric writer with a reform Judaic perspective he has a natural expectation that humankind will continue to achieve, learn and triumph. The only thing negative about these essays are their dissimilarity and irregularity. There is also an uneveness in quality that many may find jarring.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David Graham on March 3, 1998
Format: Paperback
Boorstin himself admits that he continues to be very optimistic about mankind's future, despite all the horrors that go on in the world, and this gives a slightly euphemistic tone to his essays. Still, they are quite informative and I enjoyed reading them.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas Dujmovic VINE VOICE on August 12, 2004
Format: Paperback
Boorstin's somewhat disjointed collection of speeches and essays published elsewere is subtitled "Essays on the Unexpected." What was unexpected for me was how disappointing the whole set is. Turns out Boorstin's wife talked him into doing this book; this is a case where he should have pushed back.

Of the 16 chapters, the first four have a breathless, too clever quality that is annoying. Boorstin is on firmer ground and far more interesting when he's writing about American history: with 'Printing and the Constitution,' for example, he shows wit and insight. His chapters on Tocqueville's America, the Capitol and the White House also were interesting. Subsequent chapters, however, on Darwin, statistics, and the so-called fourth kingdom (the age of machines), return to the overwrought form of the early chapters. One of the more annoying things Boorstin does is use religious allusions like a club, to the point when it becomes obvious Boorstin is a secularist who thinks it's all bunk.

Another reviewer noted that Boorstin is far better in his better known works, like The Discoverers. I hope so.
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By Maria Beadnell on July 28, 2014
Format: Paperback
I admit I didn't finish it and that the reason I didn't is that the man didn't talk about Cleopatra.

The essays were well-written, and for the most part, insightful. I very much enjoyed the idea that those who are negative discoverers, such as James Cook, are as important as the discoverers, and that things can't be uninvented. But I was pretty well into the book when I remembered I wanted an essay on Cleopatra's nose and couldn't find it, so I looked in the index.

No reference to Cleo's nose. No reference to her at all.

I know that the title is an allusion to Petrarch, but that's not enough. I wanted to read the thing the title is about, and I don't think it's too much to ask that the title be what the book is about, at least part of it.

I felt cheated. So I took it back to the library. I'll pick it up again, maybe, when my mood passes.
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