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


New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester follows the footsteps of America's most crucial innovators, thinkers, and explorers, from Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys of the West to the builders of the transcontinental railroad and the great highway systems to show how these daring men from three centuries left their mark on America's natural landscapes through courage, ingenuity, and hard work. Winchester brings together the breathtaking achievements of those American pioneers who ...

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

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New York Times bestselling author Simon Winchester follows the footsteps of America's most crucial innovators, thinkers, and explorers, from Lewis and Clark and the leaders of the Great Surveys of the West to the builders of the transcontinental railroad and the great highway systems to show how these daring men from three centuries left their mark on America's natural landscapes through courage, ingenuity, and hard work. Winchester brings together the breathtaking achievements of those American pioneers who helped to forge and unify the new nation, and who toiled fearlessly to bond the citizens and the geography of the United States from its very beginnings. This sweeping narrative is an unforgettable journey of unprecedented scope across time and open spaces, providing a new lens through which to view American history, led by one of our most gifted writers.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Others might view the story of America's transformation from a rag-tag assemblage of colonies into a unified nation as a history of heroic Founding Fathers or scheming politicians; Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the World; Atlantic) sees it instead as an epic narrative about empirically-minded explorers, scientists, and inventors. With characteristic vigor, this new U.S. citizen follows the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, the builders of the first transcontinental telegraph, the civil engineers behind the Interstate Highway System, and other trailblazers who made our country what it is today. (P.S. The Men Who United the States features dozens of photographs which underline the significant message of its theme.)

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.”
Miami Herald
“An impeccably researched, erudite, well-told tale, peppered with occasional grace notes.”
Wall Street Journal
“Vivid, valuable. ... An extraordinary, propulsive tale.”
Boston Globe
“An elegantly written account... filled with fascinating information.”
New York Times Book Review
“Entertaining. ... A pleasure.”
“What makes this book so enjoyable is that he ties the development of these advances to some brilliant but idiosyncratic personalities.”
Seattle Times
“He … freshens U.S. history by refusing to tell it through the usual suspects.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Winchester has found a thematic way to tell this familiar story so it seems fresh and informative, even fascinating.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“A brisk and bracing race through American history, geography, geology -- and ingenuity, with a dash of psychology and sociology thrown in.”
Las Vegas Weekly
“A most genial storyteller”
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.”
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.”
The Oregonian (Portland)
“[I]nformative and absorbing”
“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.”
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.)
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
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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062079619
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/16/2014
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 481,860
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon Winchester

Simon Winchester is the acclaimed author of many books, including The Professor and the Madman, Atlantic, The Man Who Loved China, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and Krakatoa. In 2006, Mr. Winchester was made an officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty the Queen. He lives in western Massachusetts.


One of the leading practitioners of the offbeat, narrative nonfiction genre The New York Times affectionately calls "cocktail-party science," Simon Winchester studied geology at Oxford, worked on offshore oil rigs, and traveled extensively before settling into a writing career. For twenty years, he worked as a foreign correspondent for the Guardian, augmenting his income by writing articles and well-written but little-read travel books. Then, an obscure footnote in a book he was reading for sheer recreation sparked the idea of a lifetime.

The book in question was Jonathon Green's Chasing the Sun: Dictionary Makers and the Dictionaries They Made, and the footnote read, "Readers will of course be familiar with the story of W.C. Minor, the convicted, deranged, American lunatic murderer, contributor to the OED." Immediately, Winchester knew he had stumbled on a real story, one filled with drama, intrigue, and human interest. Published in 1998, The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Oxford English Dictionary was an overnight success, garnering rave reviews on both sides of the pond, and remained on The New York Times hardcover bestseller list for more than a year.

Fueled by curiosity, passion, and a journalist's instinct for what makes "good copy," Winchester has gone on to explore the obscure, arcane, and idiosyncratic in blockbusters like The Map that Changed the World, Krakatoa, and The Man Who Loved China. Coincidentally, his subjects have placed him squarely in the forefront of the new wave of nonfiction so popular at the start of the 21st century. In an interview with Atlantic Monthly, Winchester explained the phenomenon thusly: ""It shows, I think, that there is deep, deep down -- but underserved for a long time -- an eagerness for real stories, real narratives, about rich and interesting things. We -- writers, editors -- just ignored this, by passed this. Now we are tapping into it again."

Good To Know

Winchester once spent three months looking at whirlpools on assignment for Smithsonian magazine.

He once wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times to correct a factual error in an article about where the millennium would first hit land on the morning of Jan. 1, 2000. (It was the island of Tafahi, not the coral atoll Kirabati.)

He reportedly loves the words "butterfly" and "dawn."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York; Massachusetts; Scotland
    1. Date of Birth:
      September 28, 1944
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      M.A., St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, 1966
    2. Website:

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