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.
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