The Object at Hand: Intriguing and Inspiring Stories from the Smithsonian Collections (Hardcover)

The Object at Hand: Intriguing and Inspiring Stories from the Smithsonian Collections By Beth Py-Lieberman, Richard Kurin (Foreword by) Cover Image

The Object at Hand: Intriguing and Inspiring Stories from the Smithsonian Collections (Hardcover)

$29.95


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From Dorothy's ruby slippers to a speech that saved Teddy Roosevelt from assassination, this authoritative guide delivers in-depth reportage on the history of remarkable objects from the Smithsonian's collections

For American history, pop culture, and museum enthusiasts


With charm and exuberance, The Object at Hand presents a behind-the-scenes vantage point of the Smithsonian collections. Veteran Smithsonian magazine editor Beth Py-Lieberman weaves together adaptations of the magazine's extensive and compelling coverage and interviews with scholars, curators, and historians to take readers on an unforgettable journey through the Smithsonian museums.

Objects are grouped into the themes audacity, utopia, fierce, haunting, deception, lost, desire, triumph, scale, optimism, playful, rhythm, and revealing to engage with the emotional dimensions of each object, how they relate to each other, and how they fit into the larger American story. A sampling includes: 

  • The Star-Spangled Banner 
  • Frida Kahlo's love letter to Diego Rivera
  • Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega 5B
  • Nat Turner's Bible
  • An AIDS quilt panel honoring Roger Gail Lyon
  • A signpost from the Standing Rock protest 
  • A glass-plate portrait of Abraham Lincoln 
  • Life-sized model of a Megalodon
  • The Hope Diamond
  • Chuck Berry's Cadillac
  • Portrait of Henrietta Lacks

Py-Lieberman reflects on the profound connections between even outwardly dissimilar objects, and offers insight and stories from Smithsonian experts. The book explores artworks, scientific specimens, historical artifacts, airplanes, spacecraft, plants, and so much more, contemplating how each item represents different facets of humanity and resonates with cultural meaning in surprising ways. Whimsical, affecting, and insightful, The Object at Hand offers an intimate and exclusive tour of the Smithsonian collections.
BETH PY-LIEBERMAN is Senior Museums Editor at the award-winning Smithsonian magazine, where as a thirty-six year veteran, she has frequented the halls and galleries of the Smithsonian museums, educating readers on its history, art and science collections and exhibitions. Py-Lieberman is also the editor of the “At the Smithsonian” section of Smithsonian magazine. Founded in 1970, Smithsonian magazine entertains a national audience with its stellar photography and storytelling, as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s mission to “increase and diffuse knowledge.” The magazine’s print and digital audiences number more than 120 million, curious minds looking to better understand the world and its history, science, arts and culture.
Product Details ISBN: 9781588347497
ISBN-10: 1588347494
Publisher: Smithsonian Books
Publication Date: September 26th, 2023
Pages: 304
Language: English
BOOKLIST
"this well-considered compilation is very satisfying, making for thoroughly addictive reading."

CHICAGO TRIBUNE
"[A holiday gift] for the family member who knows everything. The Object at Hand— which is so compellingly told [...]— are the histories of 86 objects, pulled from every Smithsonian institution, a few predictable (Lincoln's top hat, the Apollo command module), many illustrative of the vastness of the collection — Steve Aoki's turntable, the carcass of a giant squid."

“This delectable omakase of creatively chosen objects offers scintillating revelations about history, art, and science. From priceless treasures to simple ephemera, these selections prove that in a hectic, digital world, it is still the humble object that has the power to transport us on journeys of the imagination.” —Geraldine Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of Horse

“The most astonishing joy of The Object at Hand is how this collection of curated short essays about treasures hidden in our Smithsonian museums is actually about you, the reader. Beth Py-Lieberman reveals history, secrets, and answers while showing the heart of objects you might pass by while walking those great museum halls.” —James Grady, New York Times bestselling author of Six Days of the Condor and The Smoke in Our Eyes

“In The Object at Hand, each object’s story becomes richer and more meaningful in the context of other stories. This book is full of delights and surprises and insights—just like a visit to the Smithsonian’s museums themselves.” —Laura Helmuth, editor-in-chief of Scientific American

“In this clever, well-researched, and entertaining book, Beth Py-Lieberman highlights familiar and unknown objects in Smithsonian’s incredible collections and invites us to go deeper into the stories that bring these objects new life. These intriguing stories are made more poignant by the context of the concepts under which they’re grouped. This great read shows us there’s so much more to the objects at hand than meets the eye.” —Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums