Daniel J. Boorstin

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We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions.

Daniel J. Boorstin (October 1, 1914 – February 28, 2004) was an American historian, professor, attorney and author. He served as Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987.


Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.
These creators, makers of the new, can never become obsolete, for in the arts there is no correct answer.
  • Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin, "A Case of Hypochondria," Newsweek (6 July 1970).
  • The century after the Civil War was to be an Age of Revolution—of countless, little-noticed revolutions, which occurred not in the halls of legislatures or on battlefields or on the barricades but in homes and farms and factories and schools and stores, across the landscape and in the air—so little noticed because they came so swiftly, because they touched Americans everywhere and every day. Not merely the continent but human experience itself, the very meaning of community, of time and space, of present and future, was being revised again and again, a new democratic world was being invented and was being discovered by Americans wherever they lived.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin (1973), as cited in: Robert J. Gordon (2016), The Rise and Fall of American Growth, p. 1
  • The Republic of Technology where we will be living is a feedback world.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin, The Republic of Technology: Reflections on our Future Community, Harper-Collins, 1979, p. 9.
  • I write to discover what I think. After all, the bars aren't open that early.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin, as quoted in Wall Street Journal (31 December 1985); On why he did his writing at home from 6:30 to 8:30 AM,
  • These creators, makers of the new, can never become obsolete, for in the arts there is no correct answer. The story of discoverers could be told in simple chronological order, since the latest science replaces what went before. But the arts are another story — a story of infinite addition. We must find order in the random flexings of the imagination.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination (1992) (Vintage, 1993, ISBN 0-679-74375-8), Preface, p. XV.
  • The history of Western science confirms the aphorism that the great menace to progress is not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin, Cleopatra's Nose (1995). This "aphorism" was expressed in different forms by Josh Billings and Socrates.
  • Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some hire public relations officers.
    • Daniel J. Boorstin, quoted in Book of Humorous Quotations (1998), by Connie Robertson, p. 29.

The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson (1948)[edit]

Daniel J. Boorstin, The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson, University of Chicago Press, 1948; 1993

  • The institutional scene in which American man has developed has lacked that accumulation from intervening stages which has been so dominant a feature of the European landscape.
    • Introduction, part 2: The Influence of America on the Mind, p. 6.
  • While the Jeffersonian did not flatly deny the Creator's power to perform miracles, he admired His refusal to do so.
    • Ch. 1, part 2: The Economy of Nature, p. 41.
  • While the easiest way in metaphysics is to condemn all metaphysics as nonsense, the easiest way in morals is to elevate the common practice of the community into a moral absolute.
    • Ch. 3, The Physiology of Thought and Morals, Introduction, p. 111.
  • The variety of minds served the economy of nature in many ways. The Creator, who designed the human brain for activity, had insured the restlessness of all minds by enabling no single one to envisage all the qualities of the creation. Since no one by himself could aspire to a serene knowledge of the whole truth, all men had been drawn into an active, exploratory and cooperative attitude.
    • Ch. 3, Part 2: The Happy Variety of Minds, p. 125.
  • Jefferson refused to pin his hopes on the occasional success of honest and unambitious men; on the contrary, the great danger was that philosophers would be lulled into complacence by the accidental rise of a Franklin or a Washington. Any government which made the welfare of men depend on the character of their governors was an illusion.
    • Ch. 4, Part 1: Natural History and Political Science, p. 178.
  • Jeffersonian isolationism expressed an essentially cosmopolitan spirit. The Jeffersonian was determined — even at the expense of separating himself from the rest of the globe, and even though he be charged with provincial selfishness — to preserve America as an uncontaminated laboratory.
    • Ch. 4, part 6: The American Destiny, p. 229.
  • Since the Creator had made the facts of the after-life inaccessible to man, He must not have required that man understand death in order to live fruitfully.
    • Notes, p. 262.

The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961)[edit]

Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961) ; Vintage, 1992, ISBN 0-679-74180-1

  • We suffer primarily not from our vices or our weaknesses, but from our illusions.
    • Preface
  • A celebrity is a person who is known for his well-knownness.
    • Ch. 3, p. 57.
  • A sign of a celebrity is often that his name is worth more than his services.
    • p. 220.


  • The cities of Italy are now deluged with droves of these creatures [tour groups], for they never separate, and you see them, forty in number, pouring along a street with their director — now in front, now at the rear, circling them like a sheep dog — and really the process is as like herding as may be.
    • Charles James Lever, Cornelius O'Dowd Upon Men and Women and Other Things in General (Blackwood's Magazine, 1864-1865): "Continental Excursionists" [Adamant Media Corporation, 2001, ISBN 0-543-90729-5], p. 243. Quoted by Boorstin in The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America (1961) [Vintage, 1992, ISBN 0-679-74180-1], Ch. 3: From Traveler to Tourist: The Lost Art of Travel, p. 88.

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