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American Phoenix: The Remarkable Story of William Skinner, A Man Who Turned Disaster Into Destiny Hardcover – October 16, 2012

27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“In American Phoenix, Kilborne weaves a compelling, richly textured tale of a tragic flood, an indomitable man, and the perils and promise of silk. She has a gift for unearthing the poignant, long-forgotten details that breathe life into history.” -- Amy Butler Greenfield, author of A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire

"Many business histories are also family stories, and Sarah Kilborne tells hers with with beautiful prose, meticulous research and the revelations that only personal archives can provide. In a book with special relevance for our own times, Kilborne gives us an American ideal in short supply these days: the self-made man who gets knocked down, only to climb back up again -- stronger than ever. Going well beyond the constraints of any business case study, Kilborne works through what can only have been daunting accretions of history to show, with breathtaking clarity, the mechanics of American industrial success." -- Jacob Soll, Professor of History, USC, MacArthur "Genius" Grant Recipient, and author of The Information Master

"A compelling, comprehensive biography of a man who contributed much to American manufacturing—perfect for readers who like to root for the underdog." --Kirkus Reviews

"Kilborne’s biography of her great-great-grandfather tells a story of entrepreneurial struggle triumphing over seemingly insurmountable obstacles, a familiar trope in American culture. " --Library Journal

About the Author

Sarah S. Kilborne is a writer, historian, musician, and editor. She holds a degree in philosophy from Yale University and has been a research fellow at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center at Mount Holyoke College. She is the author of two acclaimed books for children, Peach & Blue and Leaving Vietnam: The True Story of Tuan Ngo. She lives along the Hudson River in upstate New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (October 16, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451671792
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451671797
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,033,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Ralmon Jon Black on October 16, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
I read American Phoenix with enormous enthusiasm. It goes beyond Kilborne's family story and local historical interest. It is revealing of the lives of real people, industry and customs as the 19th century rolled into the 20th. This well cited documentary is written in a style that reads like a good novel, in spite of it being nonfiction. An absolute must-read for all with any intellectual curiosity for the times of the century past.

Congratulations Sarah S. Kilborne,
From the Williamsburg Historical Society
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By FrancesMcD on December 7, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition
When I came to the end of "American Phoenix" I felt the way I do when I finish a great novel: I was sad to have to say good-bye to the characters. Kilborne paints such vivid pictures of the people and events with amazing attention to detail. This is a must-read for history buffs or anyone who enjoys an inspiring story. Now, who should play Skinner in the movie? Daniel Day Lewis?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Jerry Beaver on May 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A fabulous book about an unsung industrialist in the America of the 1800's, Overcoming extreme disaster, he rose like a Phoenix out of virtual ashes to resurrect the silk industry in New England. A great story and beautifully written. Kudos to the author.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nicholas A. Gilman on June 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
America is the land of opportunity. Americans are sometimes the first ones to forget this. American Phoenix reminds not to forget. In the 1840s, Englishman William Skinner leaves behind great poverty in London and arrives in America almost penniless, but possessing knowledge of the British silk industry. With smarts, tenacity and determination, he builds himself into a successful silk manufacturer and is much respected by his family, community and peers. Then, when all is looking like nothing can go wrong, a dam fails and the ensuing torrent brings near total destruction to the immigrant, his family and his business. With great resolve, the immigrant rebuilds his shattered dream into something even greater. Sarah S. Kilborne has produced a well-written and highly engaging story that reaffirms how very enterprising and tough people made America into the land where dreams know few bounds.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By David Rowinski on March 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I must write this review from memory having immediately passed on my copy of American Phoenix. Sarah Kilbourne has crafted wonderful story of loss and recovery. I was particularly interested in American Phoenix because I reside in the valley where this occurred but the story transcends the limits of the surrounding hills. Skinner was a remarkable individual, an industrialist who cared about the people and community.The tragedy of the flood and its aftermath are beautifully rendered and has spurred me on towards exploring the surrounding towns. I highly recommend this not just for history lovers but those who would enjoy an inspirational biography.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Gay H. Worth on January 21, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've recommended this book to lots of friends! It's a fascinating story about the silk industry in early America, a story that I knew nothing about. Excellent read! Totally loved this book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By TopCat19 on February 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when I looked at the reviews and saw that all twelve were five-star. After reading it, it certainly gets a five-star from me. I have always had an interest in business, economics and other related fields, along with history, so this book was of interest to me on several different levels. First of all, it is a true-life rags to riches story, with the added twist of him having his business and factory wiped out by a flood caused by a reservoir break. The second half of the book details how he overcame this disaster and went on to rebuild his business, and the success that he and his company had. And I had no idea that we ever even had a silk industry in the United States, so it was both fun and informative to learn about that. The book is written by William Skinner's great-great granddaughter, and she did a marvelous job, I would like to see her write more non-fiction. It's hard to believe that this is her first effort in this genre (according to the author information section, she has written two children's books). This book held my interest from the very beginning to the end. A doff of the silk top-hat to Ms. Kilborne!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dorothy Gillen on May 27, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
My sister clued me in on this book. William Skinner was a brilliant man, overcoming every obstacle that confronted him. Considering his upbringing it is amazing he broke the mold and made something of himself. Fascinating story about silk mills in Massachusetts, did not know they existed! Could not put it down.
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