He graduated from Tulsa's Central High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the age of 15. He graduated with highest honors from Harvard, studied at Balliol College, Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and earned his PhD at Yale University. He was a lawyer and a university professor at the University of Chicago for 25 years. He also served as director of the National Museum of History and Technology of the Smithsonian Institution.
His The Americans The Democratic Experience received the 1974 Pulitzer Prize in history.
Within the discipline of social theory, Boorstin’s 1961 book The Image A Guide to Pseudo-events in America is an early description of aspects of American life that were later termed hyperreality and postmodernity. In The Image, Boorstin describes shifts in American culture—mainly due to advertising—where the reproduction or simulation of an event becomes more important or "real" than the event itself. He goes on to coin the term pseudo-event which describes events or activities that serve little to no purpose other than to be reproduced through advertisements or other forms of publicity. The idea of pseudo-events closely mirrors work later done by Jean Baudrillard and Guy Debord. The work is still often used as a text in American sociology courses.
When President Gerald Ford nominated Boorstin to be Librarian of Congress, the nomination was supported by the Authors League of America but opposed by the American Library Association because Boorstin "was not a library administrator." The Senate confirmed the nomination without debate.
Boorstin died in 2004 in Washington, D.C.
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