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Awards and Reviews for Brilliant Beacons



Chosen a "Must-Read" book for 2017 by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.


A “featured alternate selection” for the History Book Club, the Military Book Club, the Library of Science Book Club, and the Literary Guild Book Club.


Chosen by Amazon's editors as one of the best history books of April 2016. 

Chosen by gCaptain and Classic Boat as one of the best nautical books of 2016.


“Eric Jay Dolin—whose superb books Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America and When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail are required reading for those interested in maritime history—has turned his gaze landward in his latest effort, Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse. Dolin guides us through the history of the American lighthouse, from the bureaucracy that built and managed them, to the men who tended them, through the wars that doused them, the science and engineering that lit them, and the storms that pummeled them. This magnificent compendium is a paean to the buildings that guided safe passage for the economic prosperity of a young nation with huge, dangerous coastlines. . . . Dolin is a brilliant researcher and seasoned writer, allowing this mostly chronological sweep moments to pause and eddy into all the stories bound to emerge from heroic engineering, isolation, and fortitude. . . . Part of the fun of Beacons is reading American history through this specifically coastal lens.”– Ben Shattuck, The New Republic


"While changing lighthouse technology and bureaucratic stalemates are addressed in “Brilliant Beacons: A History of American Lighthouses,” the book also weighs in vividly on lighthouse keepers’ lives and heroism. Wars are part of the picture. So are storms, including the deadly New England hurricane of 1938. The West Coast figures prominently, too, with terrific details on the building of lighthouses on Oregon’s Tillamook Rock, San Francisco’s Farallon Islands and Washington state’s Cape Disappointment. The whole smartly researched package is delivered with wry wit and clarity. . . . [Dolin] has a fine eye for telling anecdotes, and his chapters on the conditions lighthouse keepers dealt with are the juiciest. Tsunamis, ice floes, wild geese attacks and military hostilities were among the most dramatic challenges they faced. Boredom and isolation posed more insidious threats. . . . While Dolin never loses focus on his central subject matter, he delivers a fascinating incidental history of the U.S. while he’s at it. War and peace, economic boom and bust, technocratic muddles and political power-plays all come under his scrutiny, with illuminating, Fresnel-worthy results."–Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times


"While there have been a score of books on Maine lighthouses in the past few decades, this is by far the best national coverage since Francis Ross Holland’s “American Lighthouses: An Illustrated History,” from 1972. Dolin, whose earlier books include “Leviathan” (2007) and “When America First Met China” (2012), is a sure-handed researcher and a most enjoyable author. Though “Brilliant Beacons” updates and illuminates Ross Holland, don’t ignore the latter. They are deserving of the same shelf."–William David Barry, Portland Press Herald


"[Brilliant Beacons is] terrific. Dolin uses the history of American lighthouses to illuminate the history of America itself: As Colonies and uncharted territories became U.S. land, more coastline needed lighting." Entertainment Weekly


“His material and handling overall are first-rate. It’s a splendid history. . . . Dolin’s book, which includes reference material on lighthouse organizations and museums, would be a good companion on any lighthouse excursion. –Tim Bross, St. Louis Post-Dispatch


“A fine history of lighthouses . . . The author of other masterly works on key aspects of American history and growth . . . Dolin here presents a thoughtful, straightforward chronicle of the American lighthouse . . . A delightful journey with excellent sketches, renderings, and resources for museums and organizations.”—Kirkus Reviews (Starred)


“Here we have a full-bodied and fabulous history of one of America's most scenic and formative icons, the coastal beacons that defined a young nation’s economic drive and determination to own the seas.  Readers familiar with the irresistible narratives Dolin delivered in Leviathan or Fur, Fortune, and Empire can be confident that he has now done the same for the riveting history of America's lighthouses.” —Rinker Buck, author of Flight of Passage and The Oregon Trail.


Brilliant Beacons is the best history of American lighthouses ever written.”—Jeremy D’Entremont, Historian at the American Lighthouse Foundation, and author of The Lighthouse Handbook—New England.

"While library shelves are weighted down with books on America’s lighthouses, this new book by Eric Jay Dolin is a must-read for anyone interested in lighthouses or America’s maritime history. Mr. Dolin, an environmental policy scholar and author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (2007), is soon to release his latest effort, a well-written and detailed history of American lighthouses. In Brilliant Beacons, he examines the critical roles individual lighthouses played in colonial America, the War for Independence, the War of 1812, and the US Civil War. Even those who have read extensively on the subject will find themselves fascinated by this book. . . . This history of American lighthouses
is both engaging and enjoyable, whether for academics, who will not be disappointed in the thoroughness of the author’s research,
or for lighthouse history buffs who will enjoy its compelling narrative. It is highly recommended for both."
—C. Douglas Kroll, Sea History Magazine.


"a marvelously interesting and entertaining narrative. . . . These classic lighthouses, featured in the book’s many illustrations, and the keepers’ tales attached to them exert an ineffably romantic attraction richly conveyed in Dolin’s admirable presentation." —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist (Starred review)


“What Moby-Dick is to whales, Brilliant Beacons is to lighthouses—a transformative account of a familiar yet mystical subject. Eric Jay Dolin has devised a surprising and ingenious approach to our shared past and present. Having spent a lot of time by the sea over the years, I was enthralled by this book.”—Laurence Bergreen, author of Columbus: The Four Voyages.


“Eric Jay Dolin looks beyond the postcard romance of lighthouses to reveal a vibrant and vital history.  From shipwrecks and wartime raids to poetry, bird migration, and the physics of refraction, Brilliant Beacons is a fascinating, page-turning, and yes, illuminating read.” —Thor Hanson,  author of The Triumph of Seeds and Feathers.


“Brilliant Beacons is a comprehensive . . . survey of a romantic subject . . . [with] many fascinating anecdotes. . . . Dolin has read deeply in the lighthouse literature, perusing not only the histories but presidential lighthouse correspondence, lighthouse legislation, lighthouse engineering studies, lighthouse arcana. We learn the differences between geographic and luminous range, shoran and loran radar systems, and catoptric, dioptric, and catadioptric prisms. We read about variations in keeper salaries, the exact dimensions of dozens of lighthouses, and an account of a lunch that Calvin Coolidge had at the Devil’s Island Lighthouse during a Wisconsin vacation in 1928. . . . The most vivid (illuminating) passages describe the solitary and often desolate lives of the keepers.” —Nathaniel Rich, The New York Review of Books

"Eric Jay Dolin tells the rich, colorful, and fascinating tale of these towers of light in his Brilliant Beacons. Dolin, acclaimed author of Leviathan, Fur, Fortune, and Empire, and When America First Met China, gives a wealth of information about the people who were involved in these beacons of safety: engineers, politicians, sea captains, and keepers . . . Not only well written, Brilliant Beacons also generously provides illustrations of lighthouses that throughout the ages have played such an important role in the development of the United States."—Göran R Buckhorn, Mystic Seaport Magazine


"Now comes Eric Jay Dolin’s Brilliant Beacons: A History of the American Lighthouse, a meticulously researched chronicle of American lighthouses that gathers all of the aforementioned works into a single narrative while still offering something new for even the most widely-read lighthouse enthusiast. . . . Dolin’s work is a well-written, meticulously-researched narrative that is worth the read. Brilliant Beacons is sure to replace Francis Ross Holland Jr.’s work as the most widely read and most often cited work among lighthouse histories."—James Risk, The Northern Mariner

“Eric Jay Dolin has crafted a master work of research and storytelling. Brilliant Beacons is a fascinating ride through the rich history of lighthouses as strategic prizes in war, sources of technological innovation and inspiration for architectural ingenuity that combines grace and strength.This is a book for anyone who has gazed with awe upon the sea.” —Brian Murphy, author of 81 Days Below Zero: The Incredible Survival Story of a World War II Pilot in Alaska's Frozen Wilderness.


“This meticulously researched and fascinating book isn’t just for maritime history buffs but for all of us who appreciate little known tales of days gone by.” —Michael Tougias, author of A Storm Too Soon, and co-author of The Finest Hours.


“What better place to watch the United States taking shape than from its lighthouses? And what better author to take us to them than Eric Jay Dolin? With his usual narrative flair and wonderfully entertaining writing style, Dolin sheds all sorts of new light on American history.”—Toby Lester, author of The Fourth Part of the World and Davinci’s Ghost.


“Historian and maritime expert Dolin . . . sheds light on the proverbial ‘beacon in the night’ in this meticulous look at American Lighthouses . . . In tracking social, political, cultural, and technological threads, he creates a fascinating picture of American life and its relationship with the sea over the centuries. . . . [an] engaging . . . rewarding read, and anyone studying lighthouses will find this an indispensable resource.” Publishers Weekly


“a lover of all things age of sail who admittedly has an ever-hungry mind but short attention span, found it to be a pleasure to read. The writing style is light, illustrations break up the text and everything is packaged into neat, relatively small chapters and sub-chapters so that “Brilliant Beacons” is sure to appeal to the fan of hefty historical tomes as well as the casual reader who prefers to take in small passages at a time.”—Jacinta A. Meyers, The Day


“Hailing lighthouses as ‘national treasures’ that ‘literally lit the way’ for U.S. economic growth and maritime safety, independent historian Dolin (When America First Met China) establishes lighthouses and their keepers to be admirable and worth studying. . . . VERDICT Dolin delivers the most thorough and absorbing study of American lighthouses in over 40 years, since Francis Ross Holland Jr.'s America's Lighthouses, filling an essential niche for historians and lighthouse enthusiasts."—Michael Rodriguez, Library Journal


“Impressively researched and masterfully crafted, Brilliant Beacons reveals the high stakes and harrowing dangers of American lighthouses as no book before…immensely informative and enjoyable to read.”—Theresa Levitt, author of A Short, Bright Flash: Augustin Fresnel and the Birth of the Modern Lighthouse.


“Eric Jay Dolin has done an amazing job of compiling the history of American lighthouses. No other book on the topic is as detailed and well written. . . . Brilliant Beacons should be required reading for anyone interested in American history.” —Tim Harrison, founder and editor of Lighthouse Digest


Brilliant Beacons is a definite ‘must’ for anyone in love with lighthouses. Dolin has done remarkable research, and has come up with much new information, both factual and richly anecdotal. Dolin’s passion for his subject is apparent throughout.”—Sarah Gleason, author, Kindly Lights: A History of the Lighthouses of Southern New England.


“Sifting through old newspapers, lighthouse logs, journals and other archival material, Eric Dolin has compiled a shining account of America’s life-saving beacons. Whether you are a lighthouse buff or a student of American history, this remarkable volume is to be savored again and again."—George Jepson, Quarterdeck: Celebrating Historical Literature & Art.


“I thought this was one of the best lighthouse books I have read in the last few years. . . . If you want a very good read and want to better understand the history of American lighthouses and the real keeper's lives, then I suggest that you buy a copy of this book.”—Thomas Tag, The Keeper's Log (official publication of the United States Lighthouse Society)

“'Lighthouses are among the most beloved and romanticised structures in the American landscape,’ Eric Jay Dolin writes

He then sets about proving it by interweaving historical nuggets about their strategic importance during the Civil War – when the Southern coastline was dimmed, to impede the South’s ability to import goods – with stories from the lives of those who maintained them. It’s the latter of these that most resonate."—Mick Herron, Geographical (official publication of the Royal Geographic Society)

“There's nothing dry about this 541 page history book (no pun intended).) Dolin's prose is as graceful as it is precise. His organization is inspired. It is a rare historian who has as much of a grasp on the medium as on the message and Dolin is one rare historian/author.”—Carol Standish, Maine Harbors

“[Dolin] has written a thorough, yet entertaining, chronicle of the history of American lighthouses . . . Anyone who likes a good story well told will be pleased with Brilliant Beacons."—Dan McFadden, WindCheck, Sailing the Northeast

"Buy it if you have ever walked on a shore in the shadow of a lighthouse." — Fred Oberkircher, Lighting Design & Application 


"It reads more like a good novel than a history book. I highly recommend this volume as an excellent addition to anyone’s collection of lighthouse, maritime or American history books." — Donna Suchomelly, World Lighthouse Society Bulletin

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