Eric Jay Dolin PhD ’95 is the author of a dozen books, most recently Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse. Noting that the thousand or more lighthouses built on American shores literally “lit the way” for the country on history’s darkest nights, Dolin set out to tell the greatest stories surrounding the lighthouses’ various contributions to American life.
From their very beginning, Dolin argues, lighthouses were a priority for the U.S., with Congress passing a Lighthouse Act as its ninth law, and with American presidents from Washington to Jefferson and beyond weighing in on where lighthouses should be placed and who should tend them.
Listen to a podcast interview with Dolin about his latest book, published this spring by WW Norton.
“It was partly a function of how important lighthouses were to the commerce of the country,” says Dolin, “but also the size of the government enabled presidents to reach down and get involved in those kinds of day to day decisions that they certainly couldn’t get involved in in later years.”
In the interview, Dolin shares memories of MIT and how it inspired his pursuit of a career telling such stories. Having worked for environmental protection causes in New England for much of his career as a scientist, Dolin found in this topic a perfect fit for his personality.
“This is an amazing story of the American experience,” says Dolin. “Lighthouses offer a great opportunity to tell a narrative history of the United States that is fascinating and consequential…when I finished the book I realized that each chapter could have been its own book. There’s so much rich history out there about America’s lighthouses.”
Listen to the full interview above then visit the Alumni Association’s Slice of MIT Podcast page on SoundCloud.