Dr. Daniel J. Boorstin (1914- ) holds many honorable positions and has received numerous awards for his notable work. He is one of America’s most eminent historians, the author of more than fifteen books and numerous articles on the history of the United States, as well as a creator of a television show. His editor-wife, Ruth Frankel Boorstin, a Wellesley graduate, has been his close collaborator. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Oklahoma, he received his undergraduate degree with highest honors from Harvard and his doctor’s degree from Yale.
He has spent a great deal of his life abroad, first in England as a Rhodes Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford. More recently he has been visiting professor of American History at the University of Rome, Italy, the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and at Kyoto University, Japan. He was the first incumbent of the chair of American History at the Sorbonne, and was the Professor of American History and Institutions as well as Fellow of Trinity College, at Cambridge University. He has been director of the National Museum of American History and the Librarian of Congress Emeritus.
He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar and has practiced law. He has received more than fifty honorary degrees and has been honored by the governments of France, Belgium and Portugal. In 1989 he received the National Book Award for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters by the NationalBook Foundation. Dr. Boorstin’s many books include the trilogy The Americans: The Colonial Experience, which won the Bancroft Prize, The Americans: The National Experience, which won the Parkman Prize, and The Americans: The Democratic Experience, which won the Pulitzer Prize.
His 1983 work, The Discoverers, a best selling history of man’s search to know the world and himself, was awarded the Watson Davis Prize of the History of Science Society. His other works include The Mysterious Science of Law, The Genius of American Politics, and The Republic of Technology. In addition, he is the editor of An American Primer and the thirty volume series The Chicago History of American Civilization. His books have been translated into twenty-five languages (GBN Reviews, 1997).
Most of Dr. Boorstin’s books are not written as conventional chronological histories. Instead, their brief chapters explore many disparate facets of American culture. The topics which he covers range from the new grammar, the rise of the candy bar and the moon landing, to the development of the cash register(Minskoff, 1973). He does not relate those facts simply because they are themselves interesting, amusing and enlightening – though they are that, too.
He uses them all to help ask the questions that he strives to answer in most of his books: What has life come to mean and cease to mean to the late-twentieth century Americans? He makes history into a kind of national autobiography, reminding the people that they have made themselves what they are. Dr. Boorstin’s most known book is probably The Americans: The Democratic Experience. The democracy that is described in this book has little to do with majority rule and minority rights.
It is a full scale portrait of modern America, which describes not only the major events that were vital to the nation’s history, but the countless and little-noticed revolutions, which occurred not on battlefields but in people’s homes, farms, factories, schools and stores. These revolutions make something surprising and unprecedented of everyday experience. He shows that the Americans have become a nation which is held together by what its members buy, the advertising they see, defined by how they count themselves and how others count them, characterized by the way they describe their wealth or poverty.
The endless streams of property created by the American corporation, the new ambiguity of ownership in a nation of franchised outlets, and the new democracy of packaging, in which the wrapping of items often costs more than their contents, in Dr. Boorstin’s words, add up to the “thinner life of things”(Boorstin,1973). The quest for novelty has brought, along with its rewards, a new bewilderment over what people really mean by something new. The very idea of progress is displaced by the rate of growth.
According to Dr. Boorstin, all of that adds up to the Democratic Experience. This book aims at a balanced assessment of the price and the promise of what American civilization has done with and for and to Americans. The book’s anecdotal style makes it a great reading experience. However, Boorstin omits many happenings that had a great impact on American culture, such as the labor movement and the Vietnam War. Boorstin may “dislike important events”(Mohs,1973). However, those two events are too important for any historian to ignore.