The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible

The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible

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by Simon Winchester

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Simon Winchester, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Atlantic and The Professor and the Madman, delivers his first book about America: a fascinating popular history that illuminates the men who toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizenry and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings.

How did


Simon Winchester, the acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Atlantic and The Professor and the Madman, delivers his first book about America: a fascinating popular history that illuminates the men who toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizenry and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings.

How did America become “one nation, indivisible”? What unified a growing number of disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? To answer these questions, Winchester follows in the footsteps of America’s most essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, such as Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys; the builders of the first transcontinental telegraph and the powerful civil engineer behind the Interstate Highway System. He treks vast swaths of territory, from Pittsburgh to Portland, Rochester to San Francisco, Seattle to Anchorage, introducing the fascinating people who played a pivotal role in creating today’s United States.

Throughout, he ponders whether the historic work of uniting the States has succeeded, and to what degree. Featuring 32 illustrations throughout the text, The Men Who United the States is a fresh look at the way in which the most powerful nation on earth came together.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Winchester’s latest history profiles a huge cast of eclectic characters who helped transform America from a cluster of colonies to a unified nation through the taming of the wilderness and the expansion of the country’s infrastructure. The sweeping narrative is cleverly organized into five sections—each corresponds to one of the classical elements (wood, earth, water, fire, metal) and focuses on a different phase of American exploration or development. Winchester (The Alice Behind Wonderland) masterfully evokes the excitement of the nation’s early days—when opportunity and possibility were manifest in uncharted mountains and new technologies—while bringing each of his subjects to life. Some, like Lewis and Clark, are familiar, while others—like the many topographers who set down the Mexican and Canadian boundaries—are more obscure, but no less interesting. Winchester, a Brit who recently became an American citizen, also incorporates personal travel anecdotes to comment on pivotal locations. This bold decision is the key to the book’s greatest achievement: conveying the large-scale narrative of unification via the small-scale experience of the individual—the creation of a people by the agglomeration of persons. Illus. and maps. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
Using a nifty structure around the five classic elements of wood, earth, water, fire and metal, Winchester (Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, 2010, etc.) celebrates the brains and brawn that forged America's Manifest Destiny. The author tells the story of the tremendous movement East to West of pioneers, explorers, miners, mappers and inventors whose collective labors made the U.S. truly e pluribus unum. Men take most of the spotlight here. Lewis and Clark's Native American guide Sacagawea is one of the only females singled out by the author, who writes that she was "the key that opened the gates of the West and allowed the white men through." Nonetheless, Winchester can tell a good yarn with evident relish, enlisting the element in question to aid in delineating his big themes: Thomas Hutchins' visionary survey system of 1785 became the model for parceling up the vast expanse of the American West, township by township; William Maclure made the first truly detailed geological map of the U.S. in 1809; the discovery of the "fall line" in many American rivers suddenly rendering them impassable prompted the brilliant use of the canal system as employed by Loammi Baldwin; the building of the interstate road system, beginning with the very first in Cumberland, Md., constructed by John McAdam's new crushed-rock method in 1812; and finally, the advent of the ubiquitous telegraph wires across the country by 1860, carrying information and spelling the beginning of the new age and the end of the old. In between these milestones are a myriad other stories of American ingenuity, which Winchester recounts with enormous gusto and verve. Another winning book from a historian whose passion for his subjects saturates his works.
Tom Brokaw
“Simon Winchester never disappoints, and The Men Who United the States is a lively and surprising account of how this sprawling piece of geography became a nation. This is America from the ground up. Inspiring and engaging.”
“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.”
Wall Street Journal
“Vivid, valuable. ... An extraordinary, propulsive tale.”
New York Journal of Books
“[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.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Winchester has found a thematic way to tell this familiar story so it seems fresh and informative, even fascinating.”
“What makes this book so enjoyable is that he ties the development of these advances to some brilliant but idiosyncratic personalities.”
Las Vegas Weekly
“A most genial storyteller”
The Oregonian (Portland)
“[I]nformative and absorbing”
Seattle Times
“He … freshens U.S. history by refusing to tell it through the usual suspects.”
New York Times Book Review
“Entertaining. ... A pleasure.”
Boston Globe
“An elegantly written account... filled with fascinating information.”
Miami Herald
“An impeccably researched, erudite, well-told tale, peppered with occasional grace notes.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A brisk and bracing race through American history, geography, geology — and ingenuity, with a dash of psychology and sociology thrown in.”
The Economist
“The subtitle promises readers a sackful of exciting tales-and the author delivers. This is a clever, engaging and original look at what would seem well-trodden historical paths; but Winchester, delightfully, breaks a fresh trail.”
Zócalo Public Square
“The tales he weaves were more engaging than most contemporary fiction.”
Library Journal
Popular historian and prolific author Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) focuses on the history of his adopted country and the individuals who contributed to its functioning as a cohesive whole. He organizes what are for the most part biographical sketches thematically, yet chronologically, in five sections named for elements: "Wood," "Earth," "Water," "Fire," and "Metal." Under this scheme, the immense Eastern Woodlands forest offers the first unifying context, as Winchester writes about the trip across the continent by Lewis and Clark and their Shoshone guide Sacagawea. Next, "Earth" includes efforts of pioneering geologist William Maclure, his 1809 geologic map of the Appalachian Mountains, and its unifying scientific impact. "Water" transportation routes include the creation of the Erie Canal and those who championed its economic importance to local businessmen, such as flour merchant Jesse Hawley. Robert Fulton's steam engine used "Fire" to make railroads practical and efficient. "Metal" stitched together the country through Samuel Morse's use of telegraph wires to increase the speed of communication; FDR brought electricity to rural America over the objections of power companies. VERDICT Along the way, 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. [See Prepub Alert 4/1/13.]—Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)


Meet the Author

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, The Men Who United the States, The Map That Changed the World, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa, all of which were New York Times bestsellers and appeared on numerous best and notable lists. In 2006, Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He resides in western Massachusetts.

Brief Biography

New York; Massachusetts; Scotland
Date of Birth:
September 28, 1944
Place of Birth:
London, England
M.A., St. Catherine¿s College, Oxford, 1966

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The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
The-Ranger More than 1 year ago
I had read another of Simon Winchester's books and enjoyed his writing. This book failed me for the vast number of inaccuracies and incorrect information. It made me question the rest of his book as to being truly factual. Examples are: He writes of the mountain man Old Bill Williams and that he was probably a cannibal when he lead Charles Fremont's expedition into the San Juan Mountains in the winter. Williams tried to talk Fremont out of attempting to traverse the San Juan Mtns. A year later Williams was killed, probably by Ute Indians. Fremont then laid blame on Williams for the failure and accused him of being a cannibal. When Winchester writes about Yellowstone he fails to mention John Colter who reported seeing the geysers and mudpots. It was known as "Colter's Hell" and many did not believe him. When he writes of John Wesley Powell rowing through Cataract Canyon he states there was no where they could land on shore. In truth they portaged many of the rapids of Cataract and even stopped to shoot two desert bighorn sheep.Then Winchester writes, "boaters and rafters still vanish without trace today in the treacherous boils of Marble Canyon, never to be found whole." Might want to tell the National Park Service about all these disappearing boaters!!! Continuing on in the Grand Canyon he states that Lava Falls is now silted up by Lake Mead. Lava Falls is alive and well. Lava Cliff Rapid was inundated by the reservoir. He says the Green River comes from Yellowstone. The Green's headwaters are the Wind River Range in Wyoming. In writing of the "Great Diamond Hoax" he says that today, "The Bureau of Land Management looks after this remote, unwanted wilderness and does its best to keep away people who have no business there." BLM does not keep people away, and wilderness is very much WANTED! I found several more inaccuracies and finally conceded to read no more. Very disappointing.  I find myself not wanting to read more of this author.   
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Author has a great vocabulary and seems to enjoy flaunting it. He cannot tell a story to save his life. This book was more about himself and his research than about what the title says. I bought the book because I was interested in US history. Very poor book for that purpose.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Winchester not only weaves familiar history with the unfamiliar staying true to his original motif threads, but he brings a fascinating perspective to it all. His voice is a pleasure to listen to.
anonymousHH More than 1 year ago
I heard the author talk about his book on mpr and I thought that it would have much more of a local MN interest to me than it does, although I am only about half finished reading it. But he starts out telling a shortened version of the Lewis and Clark expedition and I am always interested in learning more about that. He interrupts the historical narrative, once in a while, to inject some interesting tids bits of what is happening to the region that he is writing about at the present moment. I am enjoying the book and learning much about the history of places east of my home state of MN. I just finished reading the part of the book where he writes about how George Washington explores his own land given to him by the British gov't and comes up with an ill concieved plan to build a canal there. I recommend reading this book. So far it has been interesting to me.It has just come out and so I wasnt yet able to purchase it in paperback form.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting stories in a whole that didn't quite gel.
TREBORNOSNHOJ More than 1 year ago
Learned more than I expected