The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible by Simon Winchester
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is the most boring Simon Winchester book I've ever read and yet I still really enjoyed it! The man just has a way with history that few other historians can replicate. He's the Dr. Frankenstein of history. He enlivens it. He even embiggens it!
Reading the title The Men Who United the States, I assumed I was in for the usual Revolutionary War book. I expected Washington, Adams and Jefferson, and yes it does begin with them (just Washington and Jefferson though...poor Adams). Then it slides into Lewis & Clark, and from there we're off! Surveying of the U.S., the Oregon Trail, and relations with the natives bridge the gap until we get to the railroad and telegraph.
At this point I finally read the subtitle America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible and realized my earlier error. This book is about the people and innovations that coalesced the nation. It does a damn fine job of bringing it all together!
Dependent on your interest in each subject, some parts of the book may lag or entice you more than others. It felt like Winchester balanced his page-count well for each topic. Eventually the reader passes through the day of the car, electricity, airplane, telephone, radio, and television, right up to the internet. It's not chronologically linear from start to finish. Asides abound as they often do with his books. But the flash points and eureka moments of U.S. history are all in a row.
There were a few passages off of Winchester's pen that take license, say with imagined history or off-the-cuff theories. These passages are brief, often no more than one-liners probably meant to be taken tongue-in-cheek. They didn't bother me much, but they'd probably bother a scholar. Then again, why would a scholar be reading this?
So, why only three stars? The subject matter on the whole lacks the tension of Winchester's past books. Prior, he'd picked material that might've made a good episode for Ripley's Believe It Or Not. This stuff, while important and interesting in its own way, lacks much wonder, mystery or excitement.
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