Daniel Joseph Boorstin was born on October 1, 1914, in Atlanta, Georgia to Russian-Jewish immigrants Samuel and Dora Boorstin. Samuel Boorstin was a lawyer who participated in the defense of Leo Frank, a Jewish factory superintendent who was accused and convicted of the rape and murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan. Frank was lynched in 1915 and anti-Semitic sentiment began to grow in Georgia. The Boorstin family relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Boorstin was raised.
Boorstin began his career in academia at Swarthmore College in 1942 and later was hired by the University of Chicago. He became director and senior historian of the National Museum of History and Technology, now known as the National Museum of American History, Behring Center in Washington, D.C., in 1973. In 1975, President Gerald Ford nominated Boorstin to be Librarian of Congress. Two years later, he founded the Center for the Book to promote literacy, libraries, reading, and an understanding of the history and heritage of American literature. Since its inception in 1977, the Center for the Book has expanded and established state affiliate Centers for the Book in all 50 states, as well as in the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He retired from the Library of Congress in 1987.
Boorstin authored several history books in his lifetime, including his series The Americans, the first of which was published in 1958 and the last of which was published in 1973, as well as The Lost World of Thomas Jefferson in 1948 and The Seekers: The Story of Man’s Continuing Quest to Understand His World in 1998, the last of his “knowledge” trilogy. Boorstin became known for his critique of American liberalism and modern culture, including the rise of leaders in the 1960s resembling media stars, as noted in his book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in American (1962). He defined celebrities as people who were well known for being well known and he was perturbed by the spectacle of the 1960 televised presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
Daniel Boorstin died in Washington, D.C., at the aged of 89 on February 28, 2004. His wife and collaborator, Ruth Frankel, died in 2013. They are survived by their three children, Paul, Johnathan, and David, as well as their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.