The Stranger and the Statesman: James Smithson, John Quincy Adams, and the Making of America's Greatest Museum: The Smithsonian by Nina Burleigh

It was one of the nineteenth century's greatest philanthropic gifts -- and one of its most puzzling mysteries.

In 1829, a wealthy English naturalist named James Smithson left his library, mineral collection, and entire fortune to "the United States of America, to found ... an establishment for the increase and diffusion of Knowledge among men" -- even though he had never visited the United States or known any Americans.

In this fascinating book, Nina Burleigh pieces together the reclusive benefactor's life and painstaking scientific pursuits, and discloses how his bequest was nearly lost due to political infighting until several heroes, including former president John Quincy Adams, saw to it that Smithson's curious notion was realized in 1846.

The result was the Smithsonian: a castle housing the United States' first and greatest cultural and scientific establishment, one that has since funded thousands of scientific and exploratory projects around the world and given the nation's capital an enduring cultural foundation.

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