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Informative and enjoyable biography of the American Economy
on October 15, 2004
Forests have been cleared for all the books that have been written on American History. While a few stand out from the pack, it is harder to find one that is fresh, interesting, and informative. "An Empire of Wealth" is all of those things and I strongly recommend it to you. Instead of being a military, political, or diplomatic history, John Steel Gordon has written an economic biography of our country. Do not mistake this approach for a dry treatise on economics. Far from it, this book is full of struggle, wild success, bitter failure, dislocation from wrenching changes in the economy due to the rise of new technologies, and marshalling resources for war.
He begins with the resource rich, but hostile wilderness that the early explorers found. The British made the first permanent settlement at Jamestown in what is now Virginia. The settlers had come for gold, found mica that they mistook for gold ore, and only 38 of the 105 survived the first winter. They kept coming from England and they kept struggling until they began to grow and export tobacco. Mr. Gordon then takes us on a fast paced, and amazing journey through the nation's founding, the movement west, our major wars, depressions, and the rise (and fall) of technologies such as steam, the railroads, machine supported agriculture, banking, and international trade. He ends the book with the horrible events we experienced on September 11, 2001.
Not only is this a fun read for anyone interested in American History, it would be a fine addition to the history readings for high school or college students. I especially like the author's honesty about the good and the bad in our history without making us the bad guys or the source of all pain and suffering on the planet. The reader comes away with a richer understanding of our history and feels good about our place in the world.
The book has a particularly nice bibliography in addition to the chapter notes. The readings offered in the bibliography would enrich anyone and I also urge you to look at them and read as many as you can. There is also an index to help you find certain topics. (I am a big fan of indexes and cannot understand any modern book without one - given how easily computers can create them and allow the editor to work them into something useful. Yet, we still get books without indexes because people think they will be more popular. What I want is useful!)