In They Made America, Sir Harold, the historian, publisher and journalist, follows up his 1998 volume, ''The American Century,'' with absorbing profiles of Americans whose inventiveness and industriousness changed the way human beings live. Read just a few of these portraits and you begin to become dismayed at what you yourself have accomplished in your time on the planet: that is, comparatively nothing. Certainly nothing that compares with the lasting transformations wrought by Samuel Insull (who put cheap electricity into many thousands of homes) or Samuel Morse (whose telegraph liberated communication from the constraints of geography). It's enough to make you throw the book down and plunge headlong into the development of time travel or climate control or anti-aging pills -- anything that might result in a legacy with some heft to it.
The New York Times
As for They Made America, it seems about as far from fast food as a coffee-table book can be: quirky and satisfying from the first chapter to the last sidebar.
The Washington Post
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.”
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. (Oct. 12) Forecast: The PBS series and a two-part serial in U.S. News and World Report should add to what will undoubtedly be generous holiday sales for this gift book. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
In magisterial prose, Evans (The American Century) presents fascinating and energetic portraits of 70 quintessential American innovators. He focuses on innovation (instead of invention), explaining the innovative difference as the ability to turn new ideas into commercial realities that had an enormous impact on society. Those discussed include well-known innovators (e.g., Eli Whitney, Thomas Edison, and Sam Colt), but the bulk of the material covers lesser-known innovators, such as Gary Kildall, the true founder of the PC revolution; Ida Rosenthall, the Maidenform bra tycoon; and Elisha Otis, the founder of Otis Elevators. Evans's brief biographical and social histories (each six to eight oversize pages) cover 200 years of American history. He concentrates on the personal and the technical aspects of these lives to see how one influenced the other while placing these innovators in context with a profusion of contemporary illustrations. The result is a handy, one-volume complement to Pauline Maier and others' massive, two-volume Inventing America. An accompanying four-part PBS series in November 2004 is sure to stimulate further interest. Essential for all public libraries, as well as business and technology history collections in academic libraries.-Dale Farris, Groves, TX Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.