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Hidden History; Exploring Our Secret Past by…

Hidden History; Exploring Our Secret Past (1987)

by Daniel J. Boorstin

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Not my favorite book by Boorstin, but still intelligently and provocatively written. I am not well-versed at all in political philosophy, so some of his essays were a little above my head, and there were other pieces that seem a bit out of date. But his musings in general are quite interesting; I particularly liked his thoughts on how Colonial Williamsburg both does and doesn't capture the past, and his ideas about "pseudo-events" and celebrities will resonate with anyone who shudders every time a Kardashian makes "news". ( )
  bostonian71 | Dec 24, 2014 |
Daniel Boorstein, former Librarian of Congress, (but not a librarian much to the consternation of many of my overly-credential-conscious-and picayune-librarian colleagues) is a wonderful writer and historian (his series entitled The Americans: [b:The Americans The Colonial Experience|913586|The Americans The Colonial Experience|Daniel J. Boorstin|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1179418394s/913586.jpg|1205160],[b:The Americans The Democratic Experience|976112|The Americans The Democratic Experience|Daniel J. Boorstin|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1179945842s/976112.jpg|1666983],[b:The Americans The National Experience|913587|The Americans The National Experience|Daniel J. Boorstin|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1179418394s/913587.jpg|1494529] is masterful social history.)This book is collection of essays.

In one essay ("A Wrestler With the Angel") he explores some of the pitfalls common to historical research. For example his "Law of the Survival of the Unread" states that very popular works, purchased and read widely may not survive, i.e. they are worn out or stolen from libraries, etc. Another law is "Survival of the durable/monumental. Religions have traditionally placed value on monumental objects: tombs, statues, temples, burial rituals, etc. Thus many religious objects survive which may give excessive prominence to religion in the particular culture under study. Color and odor are obviously lost. We now know that the Parthenon was actually painted in very garish colors, vastly different from the weathered marble were accustomed to seeing.

We can often get a perverted view by what is saved. For example, the New England primer was used all over New England to teach students. There were so many copies, no one gave a thought to saving them. Sermons on the other hand, had almost no demand so there are multiple copies still extant. So which was the more influential?

The controversy over Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel is another example of how our perception of an era may be influenced by what we currently see. The use of perfumes during the middle ages was not just a luxury but a necessity to cover up the gross stench of people who never took baths. Other "laws" include "Survival of the Protected and Collected" (government files which may or may not reveal the truth of a matter,) "Survival of materials Surrounding Controversies," (disputations and matters of controversy are always recorded, yet ordinary currents of daily life which flow smoothly may never be chronicled; our history of sexual mores is basically a history of deviance rather than normality, i and "Survival of the Academically Classifiable and Dignified" which states that the inherent conservatism of academics is to study the "classics," i.e.teach what they have been taught. Finally, "Survival of the Victorious Point of View" (rather obvious, rarely do we read about unsuccessful inventions) and "Survival of the Self-Serving;" what is written down may be what the politicians want history to believe reflecting their personal agendas. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Selections from his 40 years as librarian and hsitorian. Afterthoughts of the the periods covered in "The Americans" and "The Discoverers" and going beyond to "The Fertile Verges" ( )
  selmablanche | Jan 25, 2013 |
To read this book is like selecting the best articles from a favorite magazine and having them all in one place. Boorstin has offered a behind the scenes look at familar topics in American history, such as Paul Revere. He adds excellent biographical summaries and places the subjects in an American history chronology. This is clearly the result of long years of writing American history, including a textbook and multivolume overview.

The Amazon reviews that preceded mine are excellent and I strongly agree with each reviewer. ( )
  carterchristian1 | Apr 30, 2010 |
Not Read
  wlchui | Aug 2, 2009 |
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...like gazing at a Flemish tapestry
with the wrong side out: even though
the figures are visible, they are full
of threads that obscure the view and
are not bright and smooth as when seen
from the other side.
---CERVANTES, Don Quixote
To The Library of Congress
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679722238, Paperback)

In this provocative new collection, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Daniel J. Boorstin explores the essential "hidden history" of the American experience that is overlooked by most historians. In twenty-four essays -- divided into five sections, "The Quest for History," "A By-Product Nation," "The Rhetoric of Democracy," "Unsung Experiments," and "The Momentum of Technology" -- Daniel J. Boorstin examines significant rhythms, patterns, and institutions of everyday American life: from his intimate portraits of such legendary figures as Paul Revere, Abigail Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, to more expansive discussions of historical phenomena, such as the Therapy of Distance and the Law of Survival of the Unread.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:44 -0400)

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