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The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 15, 2013
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*Starred Review* The ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 provided a common legal and political framework to bind 13 supposedly sovereign states to a stronger federal government. But the U.S. was still more of a theoretical nation than an actual one. The War of 1812 and the Mexican War engendered surges of nationalism, but it required a Civil War to administer the death blow to the most extreme forms of sectionalism. Winchester, the widely acclaimed author, is a native of Great Britain who recently became an American citizen. His focus here is on the more subtle aspects of nation building. He examines the accomplishments of a variety of characters, some famous and some obscure, whose visions and mastery of emerging technologies drew Americans closer together as our geographic size expanded. Thomas Jefferson’s vision of an “empire of liberty” led to the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark expedition. William Maclure, a hyperactive Scottish immigrant, provided a geological survey of vast areas of the eastern U.S. and then promoted the value of a practical education for ordinary citizens. Winchester provides a fascinating portrayal of Samuel Morse, the “man who tamed the lightning,” and the vital role of the telegraph in bridging distances. This is a finely crafted and valuable reminder that the evolution of our united nation was a process often accelerated by unlikely, sometimes eccentric men who operated outside the political sphere. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A 10-city author tour, e-book promotions, academic marketing, and an online publicity campaign round out the publisher’s push behind this celebrated author’s new book. --Jay Freeman
“Entertaining. ... A pleasure.” (New York Times Book Review)
“A rousing tribute to the alliances, agencies, and inventions - from Lewis and Clark to the Internet - that underpin our more perfect union. A stunning, highly original feast of a book.” (STACY SCHIFF, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Cleopatra)
“Vivid, valuable. ... An extraordinary, propulsive tale.” (Wall Street Journal)
“An impeccably researched, erudite, well-told tale, peppered with occasional grace notes.” (Miami Herald)
“An elegantly written account... filled with fascinating information.” (Boston Globe)
“[M]esmerizing and fascinating… Mr. Winchester is a master storyteller, and all the individuals, places, and events that he passionately writes about come to life in exquisite detail.” (New York Journal of Books)
“Winchester has found a thematic way to tell this familiar story so it seems fresh and informative, even fascinating.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“Winchester provides surprising insights into our social history, further enriching his narrative with accounts of his personal odysseys around the country. The results are highly recommended for public and school libraries and all readers looking for new and stimulating perspectives on the history of America.” (Library Journal)
“A most genial storyteller” (Las Vegas Weekly)
“[I]nformative and absorbing” (The Oregonian (Portland))
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The most amazing part of this book is that Winchester is able to tell the story of Lewis & Clark's expedition in a new light after nearly 20 years of others writing about that bicentennial celebration. I had not thought about the value of bringing along a women and child to show the peaceful intentions, or how miffed Jefferson was when he read that Canadians had explored the West and not even documented the trip well.
Winchester also writes himself into the story at times. He is no Bill Bryson but Winchester shows up in the early days of The Tonight Show, on a farm, and teaching a young boy and his pet lamb how to use an early computer. These Winchester books are great. I have read them all and never know where the man will turn up next.
In order to tell the story of America, Winchester uses five themes: wood, earth, water, fire and metal. In the case of wood, he reverts to the early European discovery expeditions such as Lewis and Clark. For earth, the reader is taken through the Grand Canyon with John Wesley Powell before Winchester moves on to the grandeur of Yellowstone and concludes with a terrific story of fraud in California that was a delight to read. As to water, Winchester tells the story of the great American canal constructions. These were all significant engineering marvels. As to fire, Winchester explains the development of the railways and then the roads and the interstate freeway network. Winchester concludes with metal by bringing the reader to the twenty first century after radio and then television leads to the internet and the communications cornucopia that we have today.
In moving through each of the above themes, the reader is often captivated. Winchester is a wordy writer but a marvelous constructor of sentences. His style is precise. It is also thoroughly enticing.
As I mentioned at the outset, Simon Winchester canon of work is eclectic. I have read a number of his efforts over the years. They have all been rewarding. “The Men Who United the States” is no exception.
The only reason I'm not giving this book 5 stars is that I was a little perplexed by the organization. I know from his description that the author grappled with this, but to me it was sometimes difficult to put together an overall time line because of the way the sections overlapped. This was not a huge detriment, but perhaps could be improved?
Overall, I would highly recommend this book.
This is one of Winchester’s finest books.