Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse

Liveright: Norton. Apr. 2016. 448p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780871406682. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781631491535. HIST
Hailing lighthouses as "national treasures" that "literally lit the way" for U.S. economic growth and maritime safety, independent historian Dolin (When America First Met China) establishes lighthouses and their keepers to be admirable and worth studying. Much of this book documents the evolving design and management of lighthouses since Boston built the first in 1716. Other chapters describe the men and women who battled tempests, loneliness, and budget cuts to construct and operate hundreds of lighthouses nationwide. Integrated into this traditional history are colorful tales featuring wrecked ships, giant waves, dauntless keepers, tightfisted bureaucrats, rampaging armies, and harrowing rescues. These sometimes star female keepers such as Ida Lewis, who plucked a total of 18 survivors from storm-tossed seas. Even libraries make a cameo—federal agencies once managed about 500 mobile libraries, lending books to isolated keepers across America.
VERDICT Dolin delivers the most thorough and absorbing study of American lighthouses in over 40 years, since Francis Ross Holland Jr.'s America's Lighthouses, filling an essential niche for historians and lighthouse enthusiasts. [See Prepub Alert, 10/26/15.]
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