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    Boorstin Daniel J.


    Prolific American social historian who charted the corrupting influence of advertising and spin on political life

    Godfrey Hodgson
    Monday March 1, 2004

    The Guardian

    The American Daniel Boorstin, who has died aged 89, was a powerful and original social historian and critic, and the first to examine, often with distaste, many aspects of modern culture, including the "image", the "non-event" and the "celebrity", all concepts either invented, or first dissected, by him.

    He taught at the University of Chicago for 25 years, and served as librarian of the US Congress for 12 years. He published more than 20 books. Among them were The Image (1962), a brilliant and original essay about the black arts and corrupting influences of advertising and public relations, The Americans, a trilogy on intellectual and social history, divided into The Colonial Experience (1959), The National Experience (1966) and The Democratic Experience (1974), and three volumes on world history, with an emphasis on the history of ideas and technology - The Discoverers (1983), on scientists and inventors, The Creators (1992), on artists, and The Seekers (1998), about religious and spiritual thought.

    Politically, Boorstin started out on the left, and was briefly a member of the US Communist party in the 1930s. He later moved to a conservative position. Although he never took any active part in politics after his youthful flirtation with communism, in many ways his intellectual trajectory paralleled that of neo-conservatives who moved to the right after what they saw as the excesses and absurdities of 1960s liberalism.

    When attacked by the new left, Boorstin responded by calling his critics "incoherent kooks" and "barbarians". He stoutly maintained that he hated racism and believed in equal opportunity for blacks, but he angered many African-American leaders and intellectuals by dismissing black studies as "racist trash".

    Boorstin's learning and diligence were legendary. When he was appointed librarian of Congress, a public office requiring approval from the US senate, several senators asked him to give up writing while he was in the job. He refused, but said he would not write in the public's time. He continued to pour forth scholarly works by getting up at 4.30am and working until it was time to go to the library at nine.

    His books became bestsellers, and had an immense influence. There is a certain irony about the fact that, although one of Boorstin's main themes was the way intellectual life had been cheapened and vulgarised by the simplifications of politicians, journalists and publicists, his own work was far more popular with the general reader than with professional historians, who accused him of various biases and myth-making.

    Boorstin's first book to make a major impact, The Image, evolved from an essay he wrote in response to the televised debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in the 1960 US presidential campaign. America, he argued, was threatened by "the menace of unreality". He was particularly angered by the packaging of politicians and policies, and by the way that political advertising and journalism replaced factual description and analysis with the presentation of self-interested images.

    Boorstin apologised for his Communist party membership, and was one of those who agreed to name names in evidence to the House of Representatives unAmerican Activities Committee in 1953. From the 1960s, his work acquired an unmistakably conservative tone, influenced by strong American patriotism. Following the work of Frederick Jackson Turner on the influence of the frontier on American democracy, he argued that the American character had been shaped by the experience of taming and settling a continent.

    His conservatism stood on the grand American tradition of the grouch and the curmudgeon; he had more in common with Albert Jay Nock and HL Mencken than with President William McKinley or the opponents of the New Deal. He also loved to twist the tails of shallow and fashionable progressives.

    Even those who were made uncomfortable by his conservative and nationalistic conclusions found much in Boorstin's work to admire. He said that as an "amateur historian" - he trained as a lawyer - he looked at subjects that were outside the canon of conventional history, such as the effect of wrist watches, mail-order catalogues and air conditioning on history.

    He was also a master of epigram and aphorism. "We must abandon the prevalent belief in the superior wisdom of the ignorant," he wrote, and he defined a celebrity as "a person who is known for his well-knownness".

    Boorstin was born in Atlanta, Georgia. His parents were Russian-Jewish immigrants, and his father, a lawyer, was part of the defence team in the notorious lynching case of Leo Frank, a Jewish manager falsely accused - and convicted - of raping and murdering a gentile girl. After Frank's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, he was lynched by a Ku Klux-Klan-style mob. Boorstin's parents were driven to move to Oklahoma, where Daniel went to school.

    He then studied at Harvard University, graduating with the highest honours, and won a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, where he took a double first and qualified as a barrister. On his return to America, he earned a doctorate in law from Yale Law School and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar.

    Before going to Chicago University, he taught at Swarthmore, Radcliffe and Harvard. In 1969, he moved to Washington to become director of the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution. One of his first moves on being appointed librarian of Congress in 1975 was to insist that the heavy bronze doors of the building should be left open. "They said it would create a draught," he later recalled, "and I said, 'Good. That's just what we need.'"

    Boorstin wrote about many inventions and new technologies. He maintained that mankind's single, greatest technical advance was the book.

    In 1941, he married Ruth Frankel, with whom he had three children, and who became his editor. "Without her," he was quoted as saying, "I think my works would have been twice as long and half as readable."

    · Daniel J Boorstin, social historian, born October 1 1914; died February 28 2004


    Washington Post 29 février 2004

    Daniel Joseph Boorstin, 89, the prizewinning and bestselling author and historian who had served as librarian of Congress and director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of History and Technology, died of pneumonia yesterday at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

    Boorstin was author of two dozen books, which were translated into at least 30 languages. Millions of copies have been sold around the world. The best known include a trilogy on American history, a trilogy on world history and a 1962 social and cultural commentary titled "The Image." In this book, Boorstin coined the phrase "pseudo event," which he described as a staged happening with little or no purpose other than to generate publicity. He also postulated that some celebrities were famous chiefly for being famous.

    He won the 1974 Pulitzer Prize for his 1973 book "The Democratic Experience," which was the third volume of his trilogy "The Americans." The first volume, "The Colonial Experience," won the Bancroft Award in 1959, and the second, "The National Experience," won the Francis Parkman Prize in 1966.

    "I'm an amateur historian," Boorstin once said. "One of the advantages of being an amateur is that you don't get trained in the ruts, so it doesn't take any originality to stay out of them. I write about what interests me, like packaging, for instance, or broadcasting."

    In the course of a writing career that spanned more than 50 years, Boorstin also covered subjects ranging from the evolution of clocks to the first use of elevators and the impact of mail order catalogues. He once described books as humanity's "single greatest technical advance."

    He said good history also should be good literature. He was known for an ability to synthesize and for writing, with an eloquence that many professional historians lack, about how strands of history came together.

    He taught at the University of Chicago for 25 years, but he never identified with academic historians. He had been criticized for oversimplification and overlooking the more complicated moments of American history, from McCarthyism to Vietnam, and for overlooking the more complicated movements of American scholarship, from multiculturalism to feminist studies.

    "He prides himself on not paying a lot of attention to the trends of historiography, but this is history which is also very illuminating," Columbia University history professor Eric Foner told the Associated Press in 1998.

    Boorstin was born in Atlanta and grew up in Tulsa. He entered Harvard University at the age of 15, and he wrote his senior honors thesis there on Edward Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Gibbon, he would say later, became a model for his work as a writer of history.

    He attended Oxford University's Balliol College as a Rhodes scholar, then returned to the United States, where he received a doctorate in law at Yale Law School. He was teaching at Harvard Law School in 1940 when he met his future wife, Ruth Frankel, who was the sister of a legal assistant working for him.

    They met on Christmas. "When he came through the door, I knew this was it. This was the man I was going to marry," she said yesterday. They were married in April 1941, and she would become one of his primary editors over the course of his career.

    "Without her, I think my works would have been twice as long and half as readable," Boorstin was quoted as saying in the introduction to "The Daniel J. Boorstin Reader" in 1995.

    "He was a joy to edit, and he welcomed it," Ruth Boorstin said. "He welcomed suggestions, and he followed them."

    For a period in the 1930s, Boorstin was a member of the Communist Party. This was an act of youthful folly, he told members of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953, and he gave them the names of fellow party members.

    In 1969, Boorstin came to Washington from Chicago as director of the Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology, now the National Museum of American History.

    He became librarian of Congress in 1975 over the opposition of the Congressional Black Caucus, which opposed his stands against affirmative action and attacks on student radicals during the 1960s. As librarian, he directed a $200 million-a-year operation and a staff of 5,800 in three buildings that held 20 million books and millions more maps, motion pictures, photographs, prints, recordings, videocassettes, presidential papers and such treasures as rare manuscripts and a Stradivarius violin.

    He wanted to make the library a "serious but not solemn place," and he ordered the installation of picnic tables around a plaza and instituted midday concerts. Over some objections, he ordered the bronze doors of the Jefferson Building opened, declaring, "They said it would make a draft, and I say that's just what we needed."

    In 1987, he retired from the library. "Always leave before they ask you to," he told a nephew, Robert Boorstin, in explaining his decision.

    Since moving here, Boorstin had lived in Cleveland Park, in a large and spacious old house where almost all the walls were lined with built-in bookshelves, the way walls in other houses are lined with wallpaper, pictures or paint. He was known for his trademark, hand-tied bow ties, a trait he shared with other Harvard men of his generation, including former Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox, former attorney general Edward Levi and presidential scholar Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

    During his years at the library, Boorstin habitually rose at 4:30 or 5 a.m., went downstairs to his study and wrote on a manual typewriter for two or three hours before breakfast, then went off to work. He continued to write in retirement, including "The Seekers," which was published in 1998. That was the third volume in his world history trilogy, the other two being "The Discoverers," in 1983, and "The Creators," in 1992.

    In addition to his wife, of Washington, survivors include three sons, Paul and Jonathan, both of Los Angeles, and David, of New York; and six grandchildren.


    par Ken Sanes, créateur du site Transparency

    An Early Theorist of Simulation:
    Daniel Boorstin

    The first social critic writing nonfiction who understood the way contemporary culture uses simulations and false appearances may have been Daniel Boorstin. Although it isn't in this brief text, he also saw that we seek simulations because we aren't satisfied with what the mundane, nonfiction, world can offer. In other words, Daniel Boorstin recognized to some degree that simulations offer us forms of phony transcendence over everyday life.

    * * * * * *

    Even as society has been developing new and more elaborate simulations, there have been a growing number of efforts by social critics to understand what has been taking place. Most have the same message: society, they say, is in danger, from the growing role of illusion in our material and cultural environment.

    It was the historian Daniel Boorstin who may have been the first to suggest this idea in a book, published in 1961, titled The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America. In it, Boorstin recognized that simulation is a distinct social category, linking together many apparently disparate phenomena.

    He claimed that America was living in an "age of contrivance," in which illusions and fabrications had become a dominant force in society. Public life, he said, was filled with "pseudo-events" -- staged and scripted events that were a kind of counterfeit version of actual happenings. Just as there were now counterfeit events, so, he said, there were also counterfeit people - celebrities - whose identities were being staged and scripted, to create illusions that often had no relationship to any underlying reality. Even the tourism industry, which had once offered adventure seekers a passport to reality, now insulated travelers from the places they were visiting, and, instead, provided "artificial products," in which "picturesque natives fashion(ed) papier-mâché images of themselves," for tourists who expected to see scenes out of the movies.

    Boorstin's criticism came from the political right. It is in a long tradition of works that warn against the vulgarization of high culture by mass society. In addition, his metaphor was blatantly mccarthyite in inspiration. America, according to Boorstin, was threatened by "the menace of unreality," which was infiltrating society, and replacing the authentic with the contrived.

    As a result, he believed, America was losing contact, not merely with reality, but with the ideals that had given the nation strength throughout its history. In the age of contrivance, American ideals were being replaced by superficial images.

    When Boorstin published The Image in 1961, it was early in the emergence of these trends. Nevertheless, he saw what was taking place with a remarkable clarity. His criticism of the packaging of politicians, politics and celebrities, is by now one of the most significant truths of American society.



    Chronolgie Library of Congress Libre de droits

    1914, Oct. 1 Born, Atlanta, Ga.

    1934 A.B., Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

    1934-1937 Read law at the Inner Temple, London, England

    1936 B.A., Balliol College, Oxford University, Oxford,


    1937 B.C.L., Balliol College, Oxford University,

    Oxford, England

    Passed English bar examinations and became a


    1938-1942 Tutor, history and literature, Harvard University,

    Cambridge, Mass., and Radcliffe College,

    Cambridge, Mass.

    1939-1942 Lecturer, American legal history, Harvard

    University, Cambridge, Mass.

    1940 J.S.D., Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

    1941 Married Ruth Carolyn Frankel

    Published _The Mysterious Science of the Law_

    (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

    257 pp.)

    1942 Admitted to the Massachusetts bar

    Senior attorney, Lend-Lease Administration,

    Washington, D.C.

    1942-1944 Assistant professor of history, Swarthmore

    College, Swarthmore, Pa.

    1943 Editor, _Delaware Cases, 1792-1830_ (St. Paul:

    West Publishing Co. 3 vols.)

    1944-1949 Assistant professor of history, University of

    Chicago, Chicago, Ill.

    1948 Published _The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson_

    (New York: Holt. 306 pp.)

    1949-1956 Associate professor of history, University of

    Chicago, Chicago, Ill.

    1950-1951 Fulbright lecturer, University of Rome, Rome,


    1953 Published _The Genius of American Politics_

    (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 202 pp.)

    1956-1964 Professor of history, University of Chicago,

    Chicago, Ill.

    1957 Visiting professor of American history, University

    of Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan

    Lecturer, Korea

    1958 Published _The Americans: The Colonial Experience_

    (New York: Random House. 434 pp.); awarded

    Bancroft Prize, 1959

    1959-1960 Lecturer for the State Department in Turkey, Iran,

    Nepal, India, and Ceylon

    1960 Published _America and the Image of Europe:

    Reflections on American Thought_ (Cleveland:

    World Publishing Co.

    192 pp.)

    1961-1962 First incumbent, chair of American history,

    University of Paris, Paris, France

    1962 Published _The Image, or What Happened to the

    American Dream_ (New York: Atheneum. 315 pp.);

    republished in 1964 as _The Image: A Guide to

    Pseudo-events in America_ (New York: Harper and

    Row. 315 pp.)

    1964-1965 Pitt professor of American history and

    institutions, Cambridge University, Cambridge,


    Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge University,

    Cambridge, England

    1964-1969 Preston and Sterling Morton distinguished service

    professor of history, University of Chicago,

    Chicago, Ill.

    1965 Published _The Americans: The National Experience_

    (New York: Random House. 517 pp.); awarded

    Francis Parkman Prize, 1966

    1966 Editor, _An American Primer_ (Chicago: University

    of Chicago Press. 994 pp.)

    1968 Published _The Landmark History of the American

    People: From Plymouth to Appomattox_ (New York:

    Random House. 185 pp.)

    1969 Published _The Decline of Radicalism: Reflections

    of America Today_ (New York: Random House.

    141 pp.)

    1969-1973 Director, National Museum of History and

    Technology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,


    1970 Published _The Landmark History of the American

    People: From Appomattox to the Moon_ (New York:

    Random House. 192 pp.)

    Published _The Sociology of the Absurd: Or, the

    Application of Professor X_ (New York: Simon &

    Schuster. 94 pp.)

    1972 Editor, _American Civilization_ (London: Thames

    and Hudson. 352 pp.)

    1973 Published _The Americans: The Democratic

    Experience_ (New York: Random House. 717 pp.);

    awarded Pulitizer Prize, 1974

    1973-1975 Senior historian, National Museum of History and

    Technology, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,


    1974 Published _Democracy and Its Discontents:

    Reflections on Everyday America_ (New York:

    Random House. 136 pp.)

    1974-1981 Member, State Department's Indo-American Joint

    Subcommittee on Education and Culture

    1975-1987 Librarian of Congress

    1976 Published _The Exploring Spirit: America and the

    World, Then and Now_ (New York: Random House.

    102 pp.)

    1978 Published _The Republic of Technology_ (New York:

    Harper & Row. 105 pp.)

    1978-1984 Member, Japan-United States Friendship Committee

    1981 Published with Brooks M. Kelley and Ruth Frankel

    Boorstin _The History of the United States_

    (Lexington: Ginn. 828 pp.)

    1981- Member, board of editors, _Encyclopedia


    1983 Published _The Discoverers_ (New York: Random

    House. 745 pp.); awarded Watson-Davis Prize for

    History of Science and Society, 1986

    1987 Published _Hidden History_ (New York: Harper &

    Row. 332 pp.)

    1987- Librarian of Congress Emeritus

    1989 Published _The Republic of Letters: Librarian of

    Congress Daniel J. Boorstin on Books, Reading,

    and Libraries, 1975-87_ (Washington: Library of

    Congress. 115 pp.)

    Awarded the Charles Frankel Prize of the National

    Endowment for the Humanities

    Awarded the National Book Award Medal for

    distinguished contribution to American letters

    1992 Published _The Creators_ (New York: Random House.

    811 pp.)

    1994 Published _Cleopatra's Nose: Essays on the

    Unexpected_ (New York: Random House. 224 pp.)

    1995 Published _The Daniel J. Boorstin Reader_ (New

    York: Modern Library. 908 pp.)

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