The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects - Richard Kurin

The story of America wouldn’t be complete without Washington’s sword or the furnishings of the Appomattox Court House, but Louis Armstrong’s trumpet and Kermit the Frog are no less essential to the full picture. What many histories may overlook are well within the scope of The Smithsonian’s History of America in 101 Objects (Penguin Press, $50), the handsome and appealing catalog drawn from the 137 million items (the largest such collection in the world) held by the institution’s nineteen museums and galleries. The book, like the collection, casts its net wide and deep. Here is a portrait of Saint Anthony from the 1700s, part of the Spanish missionary hide-painting tradition rooted in the American Southwest. Here’s a feather cape that King Kamehameha presented to Navy officers in 1829—little knowing that his gracious gesture honored the very power that would eventually end Hawaii’s independence. And here’s a fallout shelter, crystallizing the tensions of the Cold War era. The work of Richard Kurin, the institution’s Under Secretary for History, Art, and Culture, with help from scores of scholars and curators, the compulsively readable volume spotlights representative relics, inventions, symbols, and icons, relating their role in the ongoing chronicle and recounting how they came to be part of the Smithsonian.