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jenn

Murder by Death

I read cozy and historical mysteries, a bit of Paranormal/UF, and to mix it up, I read science and gardening books on occasion.

The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects

The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects - Richard Kurin

I have been in love with all things Smithsonian since I was an adolescent and visited the museums in D.C. for the first time.  My loyalty and love were permanently sealed when one of the curators at the Museum of Natural History, who would often come to Florida to consult with my Dad about orchids, took me through the behind-the-scenes part of the Museum of Natural History, where I promptly wished I could be forgotten and left to get lost in all the wonderful things that didn't make it to the displays.  It was the ultimate playground for a tomboy such as myself.

 

But I have to admit I was a *tiny* bit cynical about this book.  I've read Neil MacGregor's History of the World in 100 Objects and thought it a genius, creative way of making esoteric parts of world history immediately accessible to the armchair enthusiast.  So, when Degrees of Affection first brought this book to my attention (Thank you Degrees!), I was excited, but at the same time a little voice in the back of my head thought:  "Hmph... cashing in on someone else's genius idea and of course we (Americans) just had to add that one extra object..".

 

Still, I bought the book and couldn't wait to crack it open and start.  And right on the first page of the Preface, in the second sentence, Mr. Kurin gives credit and praise to Neil MacGregor and the British Museum for History of the World in 100 Objects as the inspiration for this book.  The acknowledgement showed respect and class and I instantly liked Mr. Kurin for it.

 

I intended this book to be a long-term read, dipped into occasionally and enjoyed right before sleep and certainly, at over 735 pages, I had no illusions that it was going to be a quick read no matter how interesting.  But I burned myself out on fiction (see: Murder of Crows) and started picking up this book more often and reading it for longer stretches of time.  I joked with DH that I had to 'detox', but truly, this book just makes for interesting reading.  The writing is friendly, accessible and not at all dry.  Mr. Kurin talks not only about each object, but who owned it, used it, and what events or other objects tied into that object's existence.  If its creation has an interesting backstory, or provenance he includes that as well.

 

Truly, only twice did Mr. Kurin lose me and both times while discussing art:  Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe and Nam June Paik's Electronic Superhighway.  I'll admit I glazed over a bit while he was discussing the interpretation of both pieces and I remember thinking "that's an awful lot to put on the shoulders of a piece of art".  The book's end includes a small essay by the author detailing the struggles of choosing just 101 objects; what got left out, what everyone involved battled for, but lost out on.  Also, there are a series of maps at the end, each showing North America and how it's boundaries changed during the birth of the United States, and a summary time-line of American History.

 

If you like American History – you know, the American History that was happening between the battles and the wars; the history of the people and the culture – then I can't recommend this book highly enough.  It barely scrapes the surface, but it does so intelligently, respectfully and with accessible and well-written prose.  I'm going to cherish my copy and I know it's a book that will be re-read from time to time with pleasure.