coffee table books

Museums by Proxy

National Museum of American History

Here at Classically Educated, we love museums.  We visit them whenever we’re in a new city, we rank them whenever we’ve seen all that a certain city has to offer, and we try to enjoy all sorts.   Most people spend their time in art galleries, but we also enjoy history museums, science museums and even transport museums.  If you’ve never been to Brooklyn’s New York Transit Museum, you’re missing out.

But as I can’t spend all my time visiting museums (well, I could, but only if someone wants to a) pay for the trips and b) pay for the resulting reams of copy – operators are standing by), I have found another way to do so.  Find the official museum book for a couple of dollars at some used bookstore.

That’s what I did with the National Museum of American History.  I didn’t need and wasn’t particularly looking for a three ton tome (all right it might be a little lighter than that) about the museum, but once I saw it, it was mine (especially at the price they were asking).

National Museum of American History - Shirley Abbott

And I’m glad I bought it.  The book was published in 1981, so it covers most of the interesting bits of history (or at least the bits I don’t remember for myself) and is production values are so high that, in many shots, you feel like you’re standing in the museum itself nearly forty years ago.  As the museum was set up to bring to life many earlier eras, the excellent photography can take you back to 1891, or even 1650.

The book was written by Shirley Abbott and is split into three sections: At Home in America, The Headlong Century and Our Times (remember it was published some time ago) and the text around the images is well-written and engaging, bringing to light the often misunderstood times it highlights.

But as in the museum itself, it’s the visual experience that predominates, and I’m grateful that museums take the time to publish books like these.  Yes, it’s a big block of a book, but it truly is the next best thing to being there.  Even modern vido tours necessarily have to take a back seat to productions of this caliber.

And the nicest thing about this museum and the US in general?  It doesn’t get sniffy about showing machinery.  Is there anything more evocative of the age of steam than a huge bronze boiler and piston?  The stuff that made life what it was, from guns to toys, is all here – and it’s from 1981, remember, so no revisionism to fit with 21st century sensibilities, which is always nice.

Grab a copy if you can (they’re cheap), but spend some time in the gym first.  This is not a book for people with slipped discs or serious hernias.

 

Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer whose work spans several genres. His latest book is a humorous fantasy novel: The Malakiad.

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