Eyes of the Nation: A Visual History of the United States

Vincent Virga, Author, Library Of Congress, With, Alan Brinkley, With Knopf Publishing Group $75 (416p) ISBN 978-0-679-44330-8
As the subtitle suggests, the main point of this book is the 500 color and duotone illustrations. While Brinkley has provided a historical narrative, it is really a straightforward and sketchy scaffolding to support the illustrations and their lengthy accompanying captions. Virga and the curators of the Library of Congress have carefully selected a full range of works from the Library's Special Collections. Take maps, for example. First, there are not too many, and those that were chosen are illuminating--Joannes Jansson's 1653 map of America shows the process of discovery that had not gone west enough or north enough to reveal Baja California as a peninsula--or totemic--General John Cadwalader's hand-drawn map of Princeton sent to George Washington reveals little about strategy but is impressive all the same. Similar iconic items include a trial title page of Leaves of Grass with Whitman's annotations, Lincoln's early manuscript of the Emancipation Proclamation, Irving Berlin's autographed lyrics for ""God Bless America"" or Robert Oppenheimer's handwritten equations on ""Nuclear Reactions and Stability."" What is most interesting is the ephemera, broadsides, caricatures, woodcuts, movie posters, photographs and other cheaply produced, broadly distributed items that let us see what the everyday people of America saw. Not everything is here: for example, given the initial impact of the Donner Party tragedy on Western immigration and the abiding, sensationalistic interest, it's hard to believe there wasn't a mention or an image. Still, likely to be a popular holiday book. 75,000 first printing; BOMC and History Book Club selections. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/03/1997
Release date: 11/01/1997
Paperback - 399 pages - 978-1-59373-035-2
Hardcover - 978-0-517-40941-1
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