Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Winchester follows the footsteps of America's most crucial innovators, thinkers, and explorers, from Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys of the West to the builders of the first transcontinental railroad and the curmudgeonly civil engineer who oversaw the creation of more than three million miles of highway. Winchester travels across vast swaths of the American landscape, from Pittsburgh to Portland, Seattle to Anchorage, Truckee to Laramie, using the five classical elements—Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal—to chart the contributions these adventurous leaders made to connect the diverse communities within the United States and ensure the future of the American project begun in 1776.
The Men Who United the States is an unforgettable journey of unprecedented scope across time and open spaces, providing a new lens through which to view American history, led by one of our most gifted writers. -- Harper
I haven't been reading much lately, so thankfully my dad came through with a review of THE MEN WHO UNITED THE STATES by Simon Winchester. Here are his thoughts:
In THE MEN WHO UNITED THE STATES, author Simon Winchester, a British-born historian who became a U.S. citizen on July 4, 2011, tries to answer the question of how America became one nation. Winchester contends that actual physical advancements such as canals, railroads and airplanes played a significant role in unifying the different states, the differing geography and the unique collection of citizens.
Winchester divides his book into five sections based on the five classical elements of Asian philosophy: wood (representing early land surveys), earth (representing geological surveys), water (representing rivers and canals), fire (representing railroads), and metal (representing communications).
Winchester takes the reader from Thomas Jefferson’s Land Ordinance of 1785 which laid out a surveying system for the unsettled territories, through the geological mapping of the United States and the discovery of gold, through the development of the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad and the airplane, and finally through the communication revolution from the telegraph to radio to television to the internet.
Winchester tells stories about pioneers, miners, entrepreneurs, inventors, engineers and scientists. The author writes about the accomplishments of people we already know like Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, Samuel Morse, Robert Fulton and Thomas Edison but he also mentions characters we are not so familiar with; people like William Maclure, who detailed the first U.S. geological map; John Stevens, inventor of the first steam locomotive; Loammi Baldwin, designer of the canal system; Theodore Judah, promoter of the transcontinental railroad; Thomas McDonald, developer of the first modern road system; Morris Llewellyn Cooke, who developed rural electrification as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal; William Siemering, the first director of Nation Public Radio and J.C.R. Licklier, who conceived the forerunner to the internet. Dwight Eisenhower, already well known as a general and president, is highlighted in the book for his report in 1919 of the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy which emphasized the need for a national highway system.
Winchester utilizes an outstanding story telling technique in making his case. He shares interesting accounts like the origin of Route 66 and a story about the greatest diamond fraud in U.S. history. He also enhances his stories with his personal visits to places he writes about. For example, he followed the route of the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy and visited the site of the diamond fraud.
Whether or not you agree with Winchester’s contention that technology served as the catalyst that brought the United States together, those that enjoy U.S. history will find THE MEN WHO UNITED THE STATES very interesting.
Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this book and to Booking Pap Pap for his review.