French sculptor Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi is best characterized by the following passage: “He was an egoist in human affairs; a humble man in the scale of the cosmos.” This elegant writing comes from Elizabeth Mitchell in Liberty’s Torch, the tale of how Bartholdi proposed the creation of the Statue of Liberty and spent much of his life making it happen. He knew that the statue’s completion would bring him fame. But he also knew that it would become a lasting symbol of what America represents: freedom and opportunity.

Liberty’s Torch challenges many of the myths surrounding the neoclassical statue. Legend has it that France donated the statue to the United States in 1886 as a gesture of respect to a longtime ally. In reality, Mitchell writes, the Statue of Liberty was the brainchild of Bartholdi, who had to sell both countries on the idea. His biggest challenge came in raising funds, which took 15 years. He staged shows and exhibitions of the statue’s renderings and models, while also encouraging Americans to donate their pennies.

Liberty’s Torch gets behind the regal facade of the Statue of Liberty to show that an iconic figure of freedom grew out of the inspiration and hustle of a single man, someone who longed to be honored during his life and to be remembered through the ages.

 

This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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