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They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators Hardcover – October 12, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Developed in tandem with a four-part PBS series to air in November, Evans's profusely illustrated and elegantly written book offers the same breadth and scope as his previous bestseller, The American Century. Evans, former president and publisher of Random House, profiles 70 of America's leading inventors, entrepreneurs and innovators, some better known than others. Along with such obvious choices as Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, Evans profiles Lewis Tappan (an abolitionist who dreamed up the idea of credit ratings), Gen. Georges Doriot (pioneer of venture capital) and Joan Ganz Cooney, of the Children's Television Workshop. From A.P. Giannini (father of consumer banking) to Ida Rosenthal (the Maidenform Bra tycoon), Evans shows innovation as both a product of and a contributor to the grand apparatus of American society. And his spotlight is on the true American elite: the aristocracy of strategic visionaries, creative risk takers and entrepreneurial adventurers thriving in their natural environment, the free-market democracy of the United States. Evans doesn't neglect the latest generation of innovators, among them Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin. He concludes with a note of caution, pointing out the nation's recent loss of dominance in the hard sciences. But just as Edison was inspired by popular biographies of innovators before him, so might the next generation of scientific and commercial explorers find guidance in Evans's exciting survey. 500 color illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In his second large-format book about U.S. history, Evans extolls American moxie, that seemingly native mixture of initiative and luck that produced the Colt revolver, the FM radio, the Kodak camera, Mickey Mouse, and eBay. As a historian, Evans is less concerned with the inventive spark itself than with how it finds capital and markets. This approach allows fresh insights into familiar stories; we know that the Wright brothers flew, but not, perhaps, how they flirted with the French before selling their machine to the U.S. government. Evans favors "democratizers" who generated affordable mass culture; Henry Ford is his paragon. In the current era, he focusses on the ferment of Silicon Valley, as embodied by such innovators as Larry Page, the Google co-founder, who marvels that more people don't work in technology, because "that's the easiest way to change the world."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (October 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316277665
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316277662
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.6 x 11.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #510,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

71 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morrisette on October 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is large (9 x 11, 496 pages) and heavy. I can barely lift it with one hand. There are 500 illustrations, many in color, almost one on every page. The accomplishments of 70 innovators are included, such as Morse, Singer, Eastman, Ford, Noyce, Land, Watson, etc. Since I work with computers, I was interested that my former boss, Gary Kildall, is listed as the true founder of the personal computer revolution. His surprising story took 16 pages, IBM and Watson got 19 pages, Edison, 21 pages. This book would make a great Christmas gift. A PBS series follows in November.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on November 13, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Author Harold Evans has chronicled American history in a most personalized way, by spotlighting seventy innovators driven by the American spirit to be remembered for their particular contributions to our everyday lives. Divided into three parts and filled with hundreds of photographs and illustrations, this coffee table book is an ideal introduction to the people, both the famous and the forgotten, who have inspired the rest of us to think beyond our self-imposed boundaries and capitalize on ideas that would benefit the greater good. What Evans does very well in his incisive narrative is show how these ideas are not exclusive to any specific group or place and how they often came about by accident or through circumstances they could have never been foreseen. The common thread is a faith in technology in its earliest incarnation when the early settlers devised windmills as a way of getting water on the Great Plains to the latest trends with the electronic whiz kids of the Internet. Even more importantly, the author traces how most of these innovators have time and again proved to be "democratizers", driven not by greed but by an ambition to be remembered. In aggregate, these innovators translated the nation's political ideals into economic reality.

Part One covers our history up to the Civil War, and the inventions one remembers from the social studies class of our youth are covered here - the cotton gin, the Colt revolver, the telegraph, the sewing machine, the bicycle - but also some surprising things like blue jeans and the credit rating. The emergence of electricity and its subsequent predominance in our lives are covered in Part Two, when Edison indeed invented the incandescent bulb, as well as the "kinetoscope", an early motion picture projector.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Gagewyn on November 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
They Made America contains biographies of nearly 50 innovators who changed the course of American history. Rather than cover inventors, Evan focuses on people who popularized existing inventions - innovators. After all if an invention never becomes popular then it has little effect on the course of history. John Fitch invented the steam engine, but Robert Fulton who you may remember from history class was the first to start a large shipping company using the technology.

The people Evans discusses have a wide range of backgrounds. For example immigrant Ida Rosenthal worked out of her home as a seamstress. She began to sow reinforced dresses meant to be worn without corsets. Customers asked for separated reinforcement as an undergarment for other dresses. Eventually demand was so high that she hired more seamstresses and focused on producing only her most popular item - the bra. Ted Turner was of course a colorful character who inherited a regional billboard company and worked his way up to founding CNN, an around the clock news channel updated continuously. The biographies also come from all time periods of American History: Part 1 covers history up to the War Between the States, Part 2 covers around 1870 to the very recent past (as the search engines mentioned in the title suggest). I was amazed to find out that the author, Evans, is British. He was drawn to study innovation in America from seeing pragmatism and the effect the country has had on modern history.

This is a neat book, and good to look through. (The actual dimensions of the book are huge, but only about 10 pages are devoted to each biography so it is easy to read in shorter sections.) History buffs, potential entrepreneurs and libraries from college to grade school would benefit from it.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Anne Griffin on October 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine, by Harold Evans with Gail Buckland and David Lefer. The title of this innovative book describes the essence of the American character: that undaunted, entrepreneurial, practical, and above all productive spirit. Evans distinguishes between invention and innovation. Inventions are many, he argues, but they do not always result in innovations, which change the way we live. The book is replete with examples of original inventions which would have been destined for the wastebins of history had it not been for innovators who recognized, and developed, their potential. The chapter on Raymond Damadian and the development of the MRI is especially impressive. The book is remarkable for its breadth and depth of detail.

Evans, former editor of The London Times and author, most recently, of The American Century, was aided in this enterprise by Gail Buckland, a distinguished photographic historian, and David Lefer, an investigative journalist.
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