Thumbnail image for Billington brothers_1939 Worlds Fair.jpg

David and James Billington had a fascinating public discussion recently about the humanities, engineering, and the future of America.

Two years apart in age,  Librarian of Congress James H. Billington and his older brother, the legendary Princeton engineering professor David P. Billington, both graduated from Princeton in 1950 (David having spent a yearlong stint as a Navy technician and James having skipped an academic year forward).

During the discussion, hosted by the Kansas City Public Library, the brothers reminisced that their father measured his wealth by books.

"In terms of happiness and satisfaction and just a good life, generally, it wasn’t economic status, it wasn’t ethnic origin, or any of these things," said David Bilington. " … It was whether or not you were brought up in the proximity of books."

Read more in this account by Rachael Herndon in the University News or watch part of the conversation here (warning: audio quality is less than perfect).

A couple of fun facts about the Billingtons:

1. David Billington’s book Power, Speed, and Form: Engineeers and the Making of the Twentieth Century (coathored with son David P. Billington Jr.) features a photo of the Billington brothers at the 1939 World’s Fair (see above).

2. James Billington’s future career as the Librarian of Congress may have had its origins in the comic book lending library he and his brother established as children at their home in Merion Pa.

By the way, Billington and fellow engineering professor Maria Garlock will discuss their book on Spanish engineer and builder Félix Candela  Feb. 2 in the Lewis Library on the Princeton campus. Here is a video about a Candela exhibit curated by Billington and Garlock.

Photo courtesy David Bilington