Heather Ewing Archives - The Birthplace of Country Music
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Radio Bristol Book Club: The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club where readers from the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and the Bristol Public Library come together each month to celebrate and explore books inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage! We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 12:00 noon when we dig deep into the themes and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

For those who don’t know, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate museum, and so that connection inspired our July book club pick: The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian by Heather Ewing. British scientist James Smithson (1765–1829) left his estate to the United States to found “at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Congress authorized acceptance of the Smithson bequest on July 1, 1836, and ten years later the Smithsonian was officially founded. Drawing on unpublished letters and diaries from archives across Europe and the United States – including the entirety of the Smithsonian’s archive – Heather Ewing paints an in-depth and fascinating portrait of James Smithson. His compelling story takes us from his complicated beginnings as the illegitimate son of the first Duke of Northumberland to his career in science, the closest thing the 18th century had to a meritocracy. Against a backdrop of war and revolution, Smithson and his friends, who included many of the most famous scientists of the age, burst through boundaries at every turn, defying gravity in the first hot air balloons, upending the biblical timeline with their geological finds, and exploring the realm of the invisible with the discovery of new gases. This book presents readers with a wonderful journey through science, ambition, and philanthropic vision, resulting in the largest museum and research complex in the world!

Book cover shows a painted portrait of James Smithson - he is a white man, middle-aged, wearing a high collar and white cravat, and a black frock coat.

Heather Ewing is a graduate of Yale University and the Courtauld Institute of Art. She is an architectural historian who has worked for the Smithsonian and the Ringling Museum of Art. She lives in New York.

Please make plans to join us on Thursday, July 28 at 12:00pm for the discussion of The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian. You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library, so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time. The librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to exploring this book on-air, and if you have thoughts or questions about the book that you would like to share with our readers, you can email info@birthplaceofcountrymusic.org (Subject line: Radio Bristol Book Club) – your book insights might appear on air with us!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for August is The Thread That Runs So True by Jesse Stuart; we’ll be discussing it on Thursday, August 25. Check out our full list of 2022 Radio Bristol Book Club picks HERE, where you can also listen to archived shows!

* The featured image above is the original Smithsonian Institution building, Washington, D.C. in 1864. Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs. http://lccn.loc.gov/2017659613

Rene Rodgers is Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum and an obsessive reader!