they made america

They Made America: Two Centuries of Innovators from the Steam Engine to the Search Engine (2004) ISBN 0-316-27766-5

There has never been a history of America like Harold Evans's long-awaited They Made America. With the verve and cogency that made his American Century an acclaimed bestseller, Evans tells the epic story of the men and women who made America over two centuries.

The workshop revolutionaries who made our world have never had the attention afforded the political revolutionaries who founded this nation. But it has been these innovators, in small-town attics and on the Mississippi, in Silicon Valley and the wheat fields of Kansas, in a black woman's beauty parlor and a Dayton bicycle shop, who set America on a course to attain a standard of living unprecedented in the history of the world.

The flourishing of America is the story of an inventive people with a mystic faith in technology, from the early settlers who devised windmills as a way of getting water on the Great Plains to the electronic whiz kids of the Internet. Innovation, practical inventiveness, is the main force behind America's preeminence. But there is more to this extraordinary history. Harold Evans traces how the innovators have time and time again proved to be democratizers, driven not by greed but by an ambition to be remembered. They translated the nation's political ideals into economic reality.

Yet many of these heroic contributors have been lost to history. Who fought and fought to make banking available to the common people? Who opened the world of international air travel to the masses? Whose Internet triumph was based on egalitarian ideals? Who put cheap electricity into everyone's homes, and was pursued as a fugitive? Who gave everyman high-quality sound, and was driven to suicide?

These innovators come forcefully into Evans’s astonishing dramatic narratives and in more than five hundred unforgettable photographs and illustrations.  We see the frontiersman John Fitch inspired by his near death at the hands of Indians to invent the first steamboat service; we see Orville and Wilbur Wright in their parlor, hand-stitching the wings of their Flying Machine; we see Gary Kildall develop the operating system that will underpin Bill Gates’s empire.  Evans connects a hundred of these innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs to the main thread of American history.

And crowning this essential work, Evans distills the most practical thinking about innovation into a feature called the Innovator’s Toolbox – influential gems that will inspire the thinking and hopes of those with ideas of their own.  Thomas Edison urged the men in his lab to come up with practical things: “We can’t be like those German professors who spend their whole lives studying the fuzz on a bee.”  They Made America is eminently practical – but more than anything, it is history to inspire


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