The Statue of Liberty is arguably the most beloved and unifying of American symbols, but its history is a complicated one. In The Statue of Liberty: A Transatlantic Story (Yale University Press, May 29), New York University Professor Edward Berenson tells the little-known stories of the statue’s improbable beginnings, transatlantic connections, and meanings it has held for generations of Americans.
No one living in 1885, when the monument arrived crated in New York Harbor destined for Bedloe’s Island, could have imagined the central place it would occupy in the American imagination. In The Statue of Liberty, Berenson explores the different facets of the statue’s history while also painting a narrative composed of the period’s luminaries—among them, President Grover Cleveland, Joseph Pulitzer, and Rudyard Kipling:
• The story of the statue’s origins: How a small group of French intellectuals decided to offer the monumental tribute to American liberty. Without any official backing, they forged ahead and designed it, announced the gift, and determined its location.
• The uphill fight for American support: American response was initially tepid. As a result, sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi needed more than a decade to realize construction. Along the way, the project overcame countless difficulties before the statue’s public unveiling in October, 1886.
• The architects and artists: In addition to describing Bartholdi’s work, Berenson also illuminates the many high-profile individuals attached to the project, including Gustave Eiffel, who designed the statue’s masterful, complex frame, Emma Lazarus, whose famous poem adorns the statue.
• The road to financing and the famous name who helped: There were many problems securing enough money for the project. Enter Joseph Pulitzer, who harnessed the full power of his newspaper empire to rally public support and donations—arguably becoming the statue’s most important stateside champion.
• The statue’s enduring and changing nature as a symbol: The statue’s form allowed Americans to interpret it in diverse ways: representing the emancipation of the slaves, Tocqueville’s idea of orderly liberty, opportunity for “huddled masses,” and, in the years since 9/11, the freedom and resilience of New York City and the United States in the face of terror.
Berenson is professor of history, director of the Institute of French Studies, and director of the Center for International Research in Humanities and Social Sciences at New York University. He has published in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. His previous books include Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and the Conquest of Africa and The Trial of Madame Caillaux.
Reporters interested in speaking to Berenson should contact James Devitt, NYU’s Office of Public Affairs, at 212.998.6808 or email@example.com. For review copies, contact Jennifer Doerr, Yale University Press, at 203.432.0969 or firstname.lastname@example.org.