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.
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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