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The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian Paperback – January 1, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Unknown; 1ST edition (2007)
  • ASIN: B001J8QOQQ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #10,653,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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I was pleasantly surprised at the range of information covered in this biography.
J. Evans
If you know Heather P. Ewing personnal, you'll see that she is very inspirated and full of positivity, beleving in what she is doing.
Cauwenberghs Gunter
If you like 17th century types and the whole revolutionary milieu, this is a good read.
DaveDave

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By DaveDave on May 14, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Excellent biography, piecing together what is known about the guy who provided a huge gift to found the Smithsonian, without ever having set foot in the USA. The Smithsonian had originally collected all of Smithson's papers, but they were destroyed in a fire before any serious scholarship. The author traveled through Europe collecting what could be found in original sources elsewhere, and paints a compelling portrait of an eccentric with a love of science and some unusual ideas. If you like 17th century types and the whole revolutionary milieu, this is a good read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Sallie T. on May 29, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Due to the loss of most of James Smithson's papers in a fire in 1865, the man who gave his name (and fortune) to The Smithsonian Institution has long been shrouded in myth as an eccentric dilettante who inexplicably left all his money to a place he'd never even visited. Heather P. Ewing's scholarly gamble was that, by recreating the society, intellectual milieu, people and places that defined Smithson, the man at the center would emerge from the shadows. It was a gamble that paid off brilliantly. Not only does the author successfully redefine Smithson as an important scientific figure in a crucial time in the history of science, but as a tormented and fascinating character, driven by ambition to gain acknowledgement from his aristocratic, quasi-secret, father. Smithson's pathologically litigious and improvident mother is an especially colorful character, who would seem right at home in a novel by Fielding or an engraving by Hogarth. In the quest for Smithson as an individual, Ewing creates a remarkably accessible "inside" account of the Scientific Revolution, its characters, controversies and practices, as Smithson crosses paths with a Who's Who of historical characters ranging from scientists Humphrey Davy and Lavoisier to the notorious Emma Hamilton, Dr. William Thornton (future architect of the U.S. capitol) and Napoleon. In this remarkable achievement of scholarship and engaging literary style, Ewing's book offers the reader a glimpse of a flawed and complicated individual at the center of the Scientific Revolution and, in so doing, vividly depicts the opportune historical moment that made possible (after nearly a decade of Congressional debate) the creation of world's largest museum and most sophisticated research complex in the still-rustic capital of the United States.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By J. Evans on January 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a captivating, enlightening, and impressively researched investigation into the life and times of this enigmatic Englishman. I was pleasantly surprised at the range of information covered in this biography. A great read for anyone with an interest in any number of subjects, including the origins of modern scientific theory and practice, the social customs and familial relations in 18th century England, the impact on European society, science and travel during the Napoleonic Wars or the founding of the Smithsonian Institution.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By William P. Palmer on February 28, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Review of The lost world of James Smithson: science, revolution and the birth of the Smithsonian by Heather Ewing
Reviewed by Dr Bill Palmer, Associate, Curtin University, Australia.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Place: London
Price: £20.00

Heather Ewing provides her readers with a portrait of James Smithson, who was in his time well known as a scientist, but who is now better known as the founder of Washington's Smithsonian Institution. The Smithsonian has become the largest museum and research complex in the world.

However the book is largely about James Smithson himself (born James Macie) and how he came to leave a large sum of money to a country that he had never visited. Ewing explains in the Prologue that much of the information that the Institution had about Smithson including his papers was destroyed in a terrible fire in 1865, before the contents had been properly catalogued and summarised; this has made the task of writing a Smithson biography very difficult. Quite frequently during the narrative there are places where it is really not known where Smithson was at a particular time or whom he met. Even the way in which he gained his fortune is far from clear. However the difficulty does provide an advantage which Ewing uses to good effect by employing a wide variety of sources, carefully referenced; these provide a wider background to the biography in her examination of motivation and custom, so that the reader is brought into an understanding of the science and the social customs of the times. Factual uncertainties about James Smithson include the date of his birth, the details of his schooling and the cause of his death.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Shaw on December 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book reveals a lot about the lost life of a great benfactor. Well written with obvious extensive research while also easy to read.
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