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Daniel Boorstin
Daniel Boorstin.jpg
Librarian of Congress
In office
November 12, 1975 – September 14, 1987
President Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Ronald Reagan
Preceded by Lawrence Q. Mumford
Succeeded by James H. Billington
Personal details
Born Daniel Joseph Boorstin
(1914-10-01)October 1, 1914
Atlanta, Georgia
Died February 28, 2004(2004-02-28) (aged 89)
Washington, D.C.
Alma mater Harvard College
Oxford University
Yale University

Daniel Joseph Boorstin (October 1, 1914 – February 28, 2004) was an American historian at the University of Chicago, writing on many topics in American history and world history. He was appointed twelfth Librarian of the United States Congress in 1975 and served until 1987. He was instrumental in the creation of the Library of Congress Center for the Book.

Repudiating his youthful membership in the Communist Party while a Harvard undergraduate (1938–39), Boorstin became a political conservative and a prominent exponent of Consensus history.. He argued in The Genius of American Politics (1953) that ideology, propaganda, and political theory are foreign to America. His writings were often linked with such historians as Richard Hofstadter, Louis Hartz and Clinton Rossiter as a proponent of the "consensus school," which emphasized the unity of the American people and downplayed class and social conflict. Boorstin especially praised inventors and entrepreneurs as central to the American success story.[1][2]


Boorstin was born in 1914, in Atlanta, Georgia, into a Jewish family. His father was a lawyer who participated in the defense of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent who was accused of the rape and murder of a teenage girl. After Frank's 1915 lynching led to a surge of anti-Semitic sentiment in Georgia, the family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Boorstin was raised. He graduated from Tulsa's Central High School at the age of 15.[3] He graduated with highest honors from Harvard, studied at Balliol College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, receiving BA and BCL degrees and earned an SJD degree at Yale University. He was a professor at the University of Chicago for 25 years and was the Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions at the University of Cambridge in 1964. He also served as director of the National Museum of History and Technology of the Smithsonian Institution.

Boorstin wrote more than 20 books, including two major trilogies, one on the American experience and the other on world intellectual history. The Americans: The Democratic Experience, the final book in the first trilogy, received the 1974 Pulitzer Prize in history. Boorstin's second trilogy, The Discoverers, The Creators and The Seekers, examines the scientific, artistic and philosophic histories of humanity, respectively.

Within the discipline of social theory, Boorstin's 1961 book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America is an early description of aspects of American life that were later termed hyperreality and postmodernity. In The Image, Boorstin describes shifts in American culture – mainly due to advertising – where the reproduction or simulation of an event becomes more important or "real" than the event itself. He goes on to coin the term pseudo-event, which describes events or activities that serve little to no purpose other than to be reproduced through advertisements or other forms of publicity. The idea of pseudo-events anticipates later work by Jean Baudrillard and Guy Debord. The work is an often used text in American sociology courses, and Boorstin's concerns about the social effects of technology remain influential.[4]

When President Gerald Ford nominated Boorstin to be Librarian of Congress, the nomination was supported by the Authors Guild but opposed by liberals. He was attacked by the American Library Association because Boorstin "was not a library administrator". The Senate confirmed the nomination without debate.[5]

Boorstin died of pneumonia February 28, 2004, in Washington.[3] Among his survivors are a son, Paul Boorstin, who is a TV documentary writer and producer.


Boorstin was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, First Class, by the Japanese government in 1986. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for writing The Americans: The Democratic Experience.[3] He was inducted into the Tulsa Hall of Fame in 1989, and received the Oklahoma Book Award in 1993 for The Creators.[3] He held twenty honorary degrees, including an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Tulsa.[3]


Boorstin at the Miami Book Fair International, 1992
  • The Mysterious Science of the Law: An Essay on Blackstone's Commentaries (1941)
  • The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (1948)
  • The Genius of American Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1953) ISBN 0226064913
  • The Americans: The Colonial Experience (1958)
  • America and the Image of Europe: Reflections on American Thought (1960)
  • A Lady's Life In The Rocky Mountains: Introduction (1960)
  • The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-events in America (1962)
  • The Americans: The National Experience (1965)
  • The Landmark History of the American People: From Plymouth to Appomattox (1968)
  • The Decline of Radicalism: Reflections of America Today (1969)
  • The Landmark History of the American People: From Appomattox to the Moon (1970)
  • The Sociology of the Absurd: Or, the Application of Professor X (1970)
  • The Americans: The Democratic Experience (1973)
  • Democracy and Its Discontents: Reflections on Everyday America (1974)
  • The Exploring Spirit: America and the World, Then and Now (1976)
  • The Republic of Technology (1978)
  • A History of the United States with Brooks M. Kelley and Ruth Frankel (1981)
  • The Discoverers: A History of Manś Search to Know His World and Himself (1983)
  • Hidden History (1987)
  • The creators: A history of heroes of the imagination (1992)
  • Cleopatra's Nose: Essays on the Unexpected (1994)
  • The Seekers: The story of man's continuing quest to understand his world (1998)


  1. ^ Alan J. Levine (2011). Bad Old Days: The Myth of the 1950s. Transaction Publishers. pp. 81–82. 
  2. ^ Pole (1969)
  3. ^ a b c d e Wilson, Linda D. Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. "Boorstin, Daniel J. (1914–2004)."
  4. ^ "Daniel J. Boorstin, RIP". The New Atlantis. Spring 2004. 
  5. ^ Robert Wedgeworth (1993). World Encyclopedia of Library and Information Services. American Library Association. pp. 137–38. 

Further reading[edit]

  • John Y. Cole (March 30, 2006). "Jefferson's Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress – Librarians of Congress". Library of Congress. Retrieved December 15, 2008. 
  • Diggins, John P. "The Perils of Naturalism: Some Reflections on Daniel J. Boorstin's Approach to American History." American Quarterly (1971): 153-180. in JSTOR
  • Morgan, Edmund S. "Daniel J. Boorstin, 1 October 1914 · 28 February 2004," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (2006) 150#2 pp. 347–351 in JSTOR
  • Pole, J. R. "Daniel J. Boorstin." in Past-masters: Some Essays on American Historians edited by Marcus, Cunliffe and Robin Winks (1969). pp to 10-38
  • King, Wayne and Warren Weaver Jr. "Briefing: Boorstin and the Emperor", The New York Times, May 2, 1986.
  • Wilson, Clyde N. Twentieth-Century American Historians (Gale: 1983, Dictionary of Literary Biography, volume 17) pp 79–85

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Lawrence Q. Mumford
Librarian of Congress
Succeeded by
James H. Billington

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_J._Boorstin — Please support Wikipedia.
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