The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects

The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects

The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects by Richard Kurin

E 173 .K87 2013

“The Smithsonian Institution is America’s largest and most cherished repository for the objects that define our common heritage. Richard Kurin, its Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, has for decades served as a driving force in the effort of our national museums to tell America’s whole story. This book is the culmination of a broad effort, led by Kurin and involving all the Smithsonian’s national museums and more than a hundred of its top scholars and curators, to select a set of objects that could collectively represent the American experience. Strong deliberation honed literally millions of possibilities down to a careful selection of 101 remarkable objects that do justice to the history of our bountiful land and its people.

That history begins with the remains from the earliest years of the pre-Columbian continent and relics of the American Revolution and Civil War. It includes the inventions of the Industrial Revolution and artifacts of the Depression, World War II, and cold war eras; icons of pop culture and of the civil rights movements as well as the objects that now symbolize the digital age and the first years of the new millennium. Each entry pairs the fascinating history of each object with the place it has come to occupy in our national memory. Kurin sheds new light on familiar objects such as the Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat, Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Julia Child’s kitchen, the giant pandas and the space shuttle Discovery – including the often astonishing tales of how each made its way into the Smithsonian. Other objects, like the suffragists’ “Great Demand” banner and the Tuskegee flyer, will be eye-opening new discoveries for many, but no less evocative of the most poignant and important moments of American history. Still others, like Sitting Bull’s drawing book, Cesar Chavez’s union jacket, and the Enola Gay bomber, illustrate difficult chapters in the nation’s history. Kurin also includes behind-the-scenes insight into controversies arising from their exhibition at the Smithsonian. In Kurin’s hands these marvelous objects come to vivid life, awakening a deep and tactile connection with our nation’s history.

A beautiful treasure in its own right, The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects is an incomparable journey through America’s collective memory and a celebration of the enduring power of objects to illustrate who we are as a people.” – publisher description

Imaginary Animals

Imaginary Animals

Imaginary Animals: The Monstrous, the Wondrous and the Human by Boria Sax

GR 825 .S288 2013

“Fire-breathing dragons, seductive mermaids, majestic unicorns, three-headed dogs – fantastic creatures have long excited our imaginations. Medieval authors placed them in the borders of manuscripts as markers of the boundaries of our understanding. These fabulous beasts, as recounted in tales from around the world, inhabit marginal locations: deserts, deep woods, remote islands, glaciers, swamps, caves, the depths of the ocean and alternate universes. Legends tell us that imaginary animals belong to a primordial time, before we encompassed the world in names, categories and elaborate conceptual frameworks. According to the apocalyptic visions in the Bible, they will also proliferate as we approach the end of time, with horses that breathe fire, dragons and serpents signalling the impending destruction of the world.

This book shows how, despite their liminal role, griffins, dog-men, mermaids, dragons, unicorns, yetis and many other imaginary creatures are socially constructed through the same complex play of sensuality and imagination as ‘real’ ones. It traces the history of imaginary animals from Palaeolithic art to the Harry Potter stories and robotic pets. These beasts help us psychologically by giving form to our amorphous fears as ‘monsters,’ as well as embodying our hopes as ‘wonders.’ Yet their greatest service may be to continually challenge our imaginations, directing us beyond the limitations of our conventional beliefs and expectations.” – publisher description

The Age of Edison

The Age of Edison

The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America
by Ernest Freeberg

T 173.4 .F74 2013

“The late nineteenth century was a period of explosive technological creativity, but arguably the most important invention of the era was Thomas Edison’s incandescent light bulb. Unveiled in his Menlo Park, New Jersey, laboratory in 1879, the light bulb overwhelmed Americans with the sense that they were witnessing the birth of a new age. More than any other invention, electric light marked the arrival of modernity, and Edison became a mythic figure and the avatar of an era.

To modern readers, electric light is so common that its remarkable qualities are buried under a thick layer of the obvious. We have forgotten the excitement and wonder that people felt when they saw electric light for the first time. But Americans were not simply passive consumers of Edison’s “miraculous” new light; rather, they played an active role in its creation. In myriad ways, they grappled with its meaning and used their own powers of invention to adapt the technology to a full spectrum of new uses that no single inventor, no matter how farsighted, could have anticipated.

Electric light changed the pace of city life and the nature of work and play, and stimulated countless innovations that changed every aspect of American life – from sleep patterns to surgery, shopping to waging war. By tracing the role that incandescent light and the electrical grid played in the pivotal decades when our modern urban and commercial culture was born, we can better understand the sources of this country’s great technological creativity and appreciate that inventions are not simply conjured up by great men like Edison, but evolve as they are shaped by a variety of political, economic, and cultural forces.

In The Age of Edison, Freeberg weaves a narrative that reaches from Coney Island and Broadway to the tiniest towns of rural America, tracing the progress of electric light through the reactions of everyone who saw it. It is a quintessentially American story of ingenuity, ambition, and possibility in which the greater forces of progress and change were made visible by one of our most humble and ubiquitous objects.” – publisher description

Wonder Woman Unbound

Wonder Woman Unbound

Wonder Woman Unbound: The Curious History of the World’s Most Famous Heroine
by Tim Hanley

PN 6728 .W6 H34 2014

“With her gold lasso and bullet-deflecting bracelets, Wonder Woman is a beloved icon of female strength in a world of male superheroes. But this close look at her history portrays a complicated heroine who is more than just a female Superman. When they debuted in the 1940s, Wonder Woman comics advocated female superiority and the benefits of matriarchy; her adventures were also colored by bondage imagery and hidden lesbian meanings. In the decades that followed, Wonder Woman fell backward as American women began to step forward. Ultimately, Wonder Woman became a feminist symbol in the 1970s, and the curious details of her past were quickly forgotten. Exploring this lost history adds new dimensions to the world’s most beloved female character, and Wonder Woman Unbound delves into her comic book and its spin-offs as well as the motivations of her creators to showcase the peculiar journey of a twentieth-century icon.”
- publisher description

Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry

Our Necessary Shadow

Our Necessary Shadow: The Nature and Meaning of Psychiatry by Tom Burns

RC 438 .B87 2014

“In what will be a tour de force in the field of psychiatry in all its complexity and depth, this important new volume explores the essential paradox of psychiatry – and offers a balanced understanding of its history and development in the medical world. Much is written about psychiatry, but very little of it describes psychiatry itself. Why should there be such a need? For good or ill, psychiatry is a polemical battleground, criticized on the one hand as an instrument of social control, while on the other the latest developments in neuroscience are trumpeted as lasting solutions to mental illness.

Which of these strikingly contrasting positions should we believe? This is the first attempt in a generation to explain the full field of psychiatry. In this deeply thoughtful, descriptive, and sympathetic book, Tom Burns reviews the historical development of psychiatry, always alert to where psychiatry helps us – but also where it is imperfect. What is clear is that mental illnesses are intimately tied to what makes us human in the first place. And the drive to relieve the suffering they cause is even more human.

Psychiatry, for all its flaws, currently represents our best attempt to discharge this most human of impulses. It is not something we can just ignore. It is our necessary shadow.” – publisher description

The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

The Why Axis

The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life
by Uri Gneezy and John A. List

HB 74 .P8 G56 2013

“Can economics be passionate?… Can it center on people and what really matters to them day-in and day-out… And help us understand their hidden motives for why they do what they do in everyday life?

Uri Gneezy and John List are revolutionaries. Their ideas and methods for revealing what really works in addressing big social, business, and economic problems gives us new understanding of the motives underlying human behavior. We can then structure incentives that can get people to move mountains, change their behavior – or at least get a better deal.

But finding the right incentive can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Gneezy and List’s pioneering approach is to embed themselves in the factories, schools, communities, and offices where people work live, and play. Then, through large-scale field experiments conducted “in the wild,” Gneezy and List observe people in their natural environments without them being aware that they are observed.

Their randomized experiments have revealed ways to close the gap between rich and poor students; to stop the violence plaguing inner-city schools; to decipher whether women are really less competitive than men; to correctly price products and services; and to discover the real reasons why people discriminate.

To get the answers, Gneezy and List boarded planes, helicopters, trains, and automobiles to embark on journeys from the foothills of Kilimanjaro to California wineries; from sultry northern India to the chilly streets of Chicago; from the playgrounds of schools in Israel to the boardrooms of some of the world’s largest corporations. In The Why Axis, they take us along for the ride, and through engaging and colorful stories, present lessons with big payoffs.

Their revelatory, startling, and urgent discoveries about how incentives really work are both revolutionary and immensely practical. This research will change both the way we think about and take action on big and little problems. Instead of relying on assumptions, we can find out, through evidence, what really works. Anyone working in business, politics, education, or philanthropy can use the approach Gneezy and List describe in The Why Axis to reach a deeper, nuanced understanding of human behavior, and a better understanding of what motivates people and why.” – publisher description

Hitler’s Furies

Hitler's Furies

Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields by Wendy Lower

D 810 .W7 L69 2013

“Wendy Lower’s stunning account of the role of German women on the Nazi eastern front powerfully revises history: we have ignored the reality of women’s participation in the Holocaust, including as brutal killers. The long-held picture of German women holding down the home front, as loyal wives and as cheerleaders for the Führer, pales in comparison to Lower’s incisive case for the massive complicity, and worse, of the 500,000 young women she places, for the first time, directly in the killing fields of the expanding Reich.

Hitler’s Furies builds a fascinating and convincing picture of a morally “lost generation” of young women, born into a defeated, tumultuous post-World War I Germany and then swept up in the nationalistic fervor of the Nazi movement – a political awakening that turned genocidal. These women – nurses, teachers, secretaries, wives, and mistresses – saw the emerging Nazi empire as a kind of “wild east” of career and matrimonial opportunity, and yet could not have imagined what they would witness and do there. Lower, drawing on twenty years of archival and field work on the Holocaust, access to post-Soviet documents, and interviews with German witnesses, presents overwhelming evidence that these women were more than “desk murderers” or comforters of murderous German men: they went on plundering sprees and brutalized Jews in the ghettos of Poland, Ukraine, and Belarus; they were present at killing-field picnics, not only providing refreshment but also taking their turn at the mass shootings. And Lower uncovers the stories, perhaps most horrific, of SS wives, with children of their own, whose female brutality is as chilling as any in history.

Hitler’s Furies will challenge our deepest beliefs, genocide is women’s business too, and the evidence can be hidden for seventy years.” – publisher description