It was such a pleasure serving as a consultant on this HBO documentary about the Statue of Liberty, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. I remember picking up a call a few years ago out of the blue from Diane von Furstenberg who said, “You’ve gotten me into a lot of trouble.” She had […]

An O Magazine 15 Titles to Pick Up Now Selection, Summer 2014 “Journalist Elizabeth Mitchell recounts the captivating story behind the familiar monument that readers may have assumed they knew everything about.”—New York Times “Liberty’s Torch reveals a statue with a storied past . . . Mitchell uses Liberty to reveal a pantheon of historic […]


Excited to be joining the Library of Congress’ bacchanalia of the book on Saturday, August 30th down in Washington, D.C. The full schedule of events is here. I will be giving a talk and Q&A at 2:35 p.m. in the Special Programs Pavilion followed by a signing from 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please stop by and we can chat about Bartholdi’s first impressions and critiques of the capital back in 1871.

Way, way back in 1994, one of my literary heroes, Barry Hannah, wrote a terrific profile of Johnny Cash for SPIN magazine. I recently assigned it for a nonfiction writing class I was teaching at Columbia University. I hadn’t remembered the ending, but I was surprised to be reminded that Hannah was no fool when it came to understanding our popular culture. Although the term ‘selfie’ wouldn’t come along until 2002, when everyone went crazy for the art form, Hannah could feel the pulse. Here’s the final passage in which he rejoices over Cash: Barry Hannah“And God, don’t we need him today, in the age of pretty faces and rhyming sound bites that the generic sump hole of Nashville has become. The age when Christie Brinkley, suffering from a wrist injury after a helicopter crash on a snow-covered mountainside, takes time to hold her own camera out and take a picture of herself, which she provides to People magazine, in case we missed the agony.

Johnny Cash is looking better than ever.”

libertystorch200by Janet Napolitano

Frederic Auguste Bartholdi is an all-but-forgotten figure in American history. He was, however, responsible for one of the most enduring symbols of the United States: the Statue of Liberty. A Frenchman from Alsace, he conceived, designed, sold and persisted until Liberty stood on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor. How this icon came to be is the fascinating subject of Elizabeth Mitchell’s new book, “Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.”

An entire book about the creation of a statue runs the risk of being a terrible bore. Yet Mitchell uses Liberty to reveal a pantheon of historic figures, including novelist Victor Hugo, engineer Gustave Eiffel and newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. The drama — or “great adventure,” to borrow from the subtitle — runs from the Pyramids of Egypt to the backrooms of Congress. Events such as the 1871 Siege of Paris are prominent.

IMG_20140615_181835086It’s official. Although the pub date is July 2, Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty is officially available in bookstores and online retail.

On June 25, Judy Hottensen and Peter Blackstock of Grove Atlantic took me out close to the Statue to film a book video. Let me just say, that an outing like that is the best way to spend the lunch hour.

O Mag both I am very excited to be reading with Emma Straub for a PLG Arts event in Brooklyn. She has written a novel, The Vacationers, that has gotten all kinds of love, and we will be in our home borough. We also happened to be #6 and #4 on O magazine’s 15 books to read this summer.

Come out for a drink and get a start on the list:

Tuesday, June 24 at 7:30
Inkwell Jazz Comedy Cafe
408 Rogers Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11225


Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the artist who gave us the Statue of Liberty, never had children of his own, but he certainly gave birth to a work that delivered great meaning to the world. He conceived the colossus, brought her to her feet, and schemed and labored to ensure her long life. Over more than a century, his “big daughter,” as he called her, inspires immigrants and activists, soldiers and satirists, thrill seekers and entertainers.

When his wife lamented their childishness, he comforted her with the words: “Children? But have we not already made a girl together, Liberty?”

Communards_in_their_CoffinsImagine you’ve never been to China. You don’t even know a single soul in China. And yet you set off to pitch the Chinese people on your idea for a colossal statue intended to be taller than their tallest skyscraper. Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi did exactly this when he came to America in 1871 to pitch a nation on the Statue of Liberty. It’s hard to fathom such hubris.

Key background though is that Bartholdi was not setting sail during a period of French calm. The Franco-Prussian war had only just ended, his beloved home region of Alsace given away in the negotiations. Paris, where he had been living for more than two decades, still smoldered from fires set by the Communards in a gruesome battle with the French government known as The Bloody Week. Ten thousand French citizens had been slaughtered in the streets.

An exile from Alsace, Bartholdi arrived back to Paris two days after the last Communard holdouts faced a firing squad against the wall of the Père-Lachaise cemetery. Bartholdi found “houses in ruins, facades torn to pieces. Troops have occupied my house. Holes in the courtyard walls go through… not a pane of glass left.”

When he set sail, only 40 passengers wandered the ship intended to carry 300. Few people had the money or will or optimism to head off on a voyage. Yet Bartholdi carried the designs for a statue he had conceived for Egypt, hoping to find a new buyer.

Paris burning in 1871. Looking toward the Hôtel de Ville in flames.

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Author Bio

Elizabeth Mitchell is a journalist and the author of three nonfiction books: Three Strides Before the Wire: The Dark and Beautiful World of Horse Racing, W.: Revenge of the Bush Dynasty, and Liberty’s Torch: The Great Adventure to Build the Statue of Liberty.

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