Daniel J. Boorstin

Pulitzer Prize-Winning Historian, Librarian of Congress


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Daniel J. Boorstin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who served as the Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987, was born on October 1, 1914 in Atlanta, Georgia but raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After graduating summa cum laude from Harvard College and receiving his doctorate from Yale University, Boostin attended Balliol College at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. At Balliol, Boostin won a "double first" in two law degrees and was admitted to the bar as a barrister at London's Inner Temple. He also was admitted to the bar in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Boorstin taught history at the University of Chicago for 25-years, where he held the chair as the Preston and Sterling Morton Distinguished Service Professor of History. He also was a visiting professor at the University of Rome, the University of Geneva, the University of Kyoto and the University of Puerto Rico. At the Sorbonne, Boorstin was the first holder of a chair in American History, while at Cambridge University, he served as Pitt Professor and as a Fellow of Trinity College.

An author of over 20 books, Boorstin was best known for his trilogy on the American experience, beginning in 1959 with "The Americans: The Colonial Experience," which won Columbia University's Bancroft Prize, and continuing with "The Americans: The National Experience," which won the Society of American Historians' Parkman Prize in 1966. The third and last volume of his "Americans" trilogy, "The Americans: The Democratic Experience," won him the Pulitzer Prize in history in 1973.

Daniel Boorstin's other books include "The Mysterious Science of the Law: An Essay on Blackstone's Commentaries," "The Image: A Guide to Psuedo Events in America," and "Hidden History: Exploring Our Secret Past." "The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself," a survey of science, was a Book of the Month Club selection and a best-seller, while its companion volume, "The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination," a survey of humankind's artistic history, also was a popular success and a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. He followed these books up with "The Seekers: The Story of Man's Continuing Quest to Understand His World," a survey history of holy men, philosophers, social scientists and other seekers of truth.

He was director of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of History and Technology when President Gerald Ford nominated him to be Librarian of Congress. While his nomination was supported by the Authors League of America, the American Library Association opposed Boorstin as he lacked a background in library administration. Despite the ALA's opposition, the U.S. Senate confirmed Boorstin without debate.

As Librarian of Congress, Daniel Boorstin oversaw the renovation of the Thomas Jefferson Building to its original 1897 condition and established the Center for the Book (now known as the Boorstin Center for the Book) to encourage literacy. After retiring from his position, Boorstin was named Librarian of Congress Emeritus on August 4, 1987. The Boorstin Center for the Book Awards were inaugurated in 1997 and overseen by the Librarian of Congress Emeritus himself.

Boorstin was the recipient of numerous honorary degrees as well as decorations from the governments of Belgium, France, Japan, and Portugal. Other notable awards and prizes he received during his distinguished career were Phi Beta Kappa's Distinguished Service to the Humanities Award, the National Endowment for the Humanities' Charles Frankel Prize, and the National Book Foundation's National Book Award for Distinguished Contributions to American Letters.

Daniel J. Boorstin died at the age of 89 in Washington, D.C. on February 28, 2004 from pneumonia. He was survived by his widow, the former Ruth Frankel, who was the editor of his works, and their three sons.