The Boston Athenæum, a membership library, first opened its doors in 1807, and its rich history as a library and cultural institution has been well documented in the annals of Boston’s cultural life. Today, it remains a vibrant and active institution that serves a wide variety of members and scholars. With more than 600,000 titles in its book collection, the Boston Athenæum functions as a public library for many of its members, with a large and distinguished circulating collection, a newspaper and magazine reading room, quiet spaces and rooms for reading and researching, a children’s library, and wireless internet access throughout its building. The Art Department mounts three exhibitions per year in the institution's Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery, rotating selections in the Recent Acquisitions Gallery, and a number of less formal installations in places and cases around the building. The Special Collections resources are world-renowned, and include maps, manuscripts, rare books, and archival materials. Our Conservation Department works to preserve all our collections. Other activities for members and the public include lectures, panel discussions, poetry readings, musical performances, films, and special events, many of which are followed by receptions. Members are able to take advantage of our second- and fifth-floor terraces during fine weather, and to search electronic databases and our digital collections from their homes and offices.
Lisa Napoli, Ellen Clegg, & Margaret Low, "Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Founding Mothers of NPR"
In the years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, women in the workplace still found themselves relegated to secretarial positions or locked out of jobs entirely. This was especially true in the news business, a backwater of male chauvinism where a woman might be lucky to get a foothold on the “women’s pages.” But when a pioneering nonprofit called National Public Radio came along in the 1970s, and the door to serious journalism opened a crack, four remarkable women came along and blew it off the hinges.
Susan, Linda, Nina, and Cokie is journalist Lisa Napoli’s captivating account of these four women, their deep and enduring friendships, and the trail they blazed to becoming icons. They had radically different stories. Cokie Roberts was born into a political dynasty, roamed the halls of Congress as a child, and felt a tug toward public service. Susan Stamberg, who had lived in India with her husband who worked for the State Department, was the first woman to anchor a nightly news program and pressed for accommodations to balance work and home life. Linda Wertheimer, the daughter of shopkeepers in New Mexico, fought her way to a scholarship and a spot on-air. And Nina Totenberg, the network's legal affairs correspondent, invented a new way to cover the Supreme Court. Based on extensive interviews and calling on the author’s deep connections in news and public radio, Susan, Linda, Nina, and Cokie will be as beguiling and sharp as its formidable subjects.
Peter S. Canellos and Farah Stockman, "The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan"
They say that history is written by the victors. But not in the case of the most famous dissenter on the Supreme Court. Almost a century after his death, it was John Marshall Harlan’s words that helped end segregation, and gave us our civil rights and our modern economic freedom.
But his legacy would not have been possible without the courage of Robert Harlan, a slave who John’s father raised like a son in the same household. After the Civil War, Robert emerges as a political leader. With Black people holding power in the Republican Party, it is Robert who helps John land his appointment to the Supreme Court.
At first, John is awed by his fellow justices, but the country is changing. Northern whites are prepared to take away black rights to appease the South. Giant trusts are monopolizing entire industries. Against this onslaught, the Supreme Court seemed all too willing to strip away civil rights and invalidate labor protections. As case after case comes before the court, challenging his core values, John makes a fateful decision: He breaks with his colleagues in fundamental ways, becoming the nation’s prime defender of the rights of Black people, immigrant laborers, and people in distant lands occupied by the United States.
Harlan’s dissents, particularly in Plessy v. Ferguson, were widely read and a source of hope for decades. Thurgood Marshall called Harlan’s Plessy dissent his “Bible”—and his legal roadmap to overturning segregation. In the end, Harlan’s words built the foundations for the legal revolutions of the New Deal and Civil Rights eras.
Spanning from the Civil War to the Civil Rights movement and beyond, The Great Dissenter is an epic rendering of the American legal system’s greatest failures and most inspiring successes.
Louis Menand and Maya Jasanoff, "The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War"
The Cold War was not just a contest of power. It was also about ideas, in the broadest sense―economic and political, artistic and personal. In The Free World, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize–winning scholar and critic Louis Menand tells the story of American culture in the pivotal years from the end of World War II to Vietnam and shows how changing economic, technological, and social forces put their mark on creations of the mind.
How did elitism and an anti-totalitarian skepticism of passion and ideology give way to a new sensibility defined by freewheeling experimentation and loving the Beatles? How was the ideal of “freedom” applied to causes that ranged from anti-communism and civil rights to radical acts of self-creation via art and even crime? With the wit and insight familiar to readers of The Metaphysical Club and his New Yorker essays, Menand takes us inside Hannah Arendt’s Manhattan, the Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Merce Cunningham and John Cage’s residencies at North Carolina’s Black Mountain College, and the Memphis studio where Sam Phillips and Elvis Presley created a new music for the American teenager. He examines the post war vogue for French existentialism, structuralism and post-structuralism, the rise of abstract expressionism and pop art, Allen Ginsberg’s friendship with Lionel Trilling, James Baldwin’s transformation into a Civil Rights spokesman, Susan Sontag’s challenges to the New York Intellectuals, the defeat of obscenity laws, and the rise of the New Hollywood.
Stressing the rich flow of ideas across the Atlantic, he also shows how Europeans played a vital role in promoting and influencing American art and entertainment. By the end of the Vietnam era, the American government had lost the moral prestige it enjoyed at the end of the Second World War, but America’s once-despised culture had become respected and adored. With unprecedented verve and range, this book explains how that happened.
Ben Railton, "Of Thee I Sing: The Contested History of American Patriotism"
When we talk about patriotism in America, we tend to mean one form: the version captured in shared celebrations like the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. But as Ben Railton argues, that celebratory patriotism is just one of four distinct forms: celebratory, the communal expression of an idealized America; mythic, the creation of national myths that exclude certain communities; active, acts of service and sacrifice for the nation; and critical, arguments for how the nation has fallen short of its ideals that seek to move us toward that more perfect union.
In Of Thee I Sing, Railton defines those four forms of American patriotism, using the four verses of “America the Beautiful” as examples of each type, and traces them across our histories. Doing so allows us to reframe seemingly familiar histories such as the Revolution, the Civil War, and the Greatest Generation, as well as texts such as the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. And it helps us rediscover forgotten histories and figures, from Revolutionary War Loyalists and the World War I Espionage and Sedition Acts to active patriots like Civil War nurse Susie King Taylor and the suffragist Silent Sentinels to critical patriotic authors like William Apess and James Baldwin.
Tracing the contested history of American patriotism also helps us better understand many of our 21st century debates: from Donald Trump’s divisive deployment of celebratory and mythic forms of patriotism to the backlash to the critical patriotisms expressed by Colin Kaepernick and the 1619 Project. Only by engaging with the multiple forms of American patriotism, past and present, can we begin to move forward toward a more perfect union that we all can celebrate.
Akhil Reed Amar, "The Words that Made Us: America's Constitutional Conversation, 1760-1840"
When the US Constitution won popular approval in 1788, it was the culmination of thirty years of passionate argument over the nature of government. But ratification hardly ended the conversation. For the next half century, ordinary Americans and statesmen alike continued to wrestle with weighty questions in the halls of government and in the pages of newspapers. Should the nation's borders be expanded? Should America allow slavery to spread westward? What rights should Indian nations hold? What was the proper role of the judicial branch?
In The Words that Made Us, Akhil Reed Amar unites history and law in a vivid narrative of the biggest constitutional questions early Americans confronted, and he expertly assesses the answers they offered. His account of the document's origins and consolidation is a guide for anyone seeking to properly understand America's Constitution today.
Martha S. Jones and Karen Holmes Ward, "Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers"
In the standard story, the suffrage crusade began in Seneca Falls in 1848 and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. But this overwhelmingly white women's movement did not win the vote for most black women. Securing their rights required a movement of their own.
In Vanguard, acclaimed historian Martha S. Jones offers a new history of African American women's political lives in America. She recounts how they defied both racism and sexism to fight for the ballot, and how they wielded political power to secure the equality and dignity of all persons. From the earliest days of the republic to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and beyond, Jones excavates the lives and work of black women—Maria Stewart, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Fannie Lou Hamer, and more—who were the vanguard of women's rights, calling on America to realize its best ideals.