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The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Atlantic delivers his first book about America: a fascinating look at the men whose efforts and achievements helped unify the States and create one cohesive nation "History is rarely as charming and entertaining as when it's told by Simon Winchester."-New York Times Book Review For more than two centuries, E pluribus unum-Ou The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Atlantic delivers his first book about America: a fascinating look at the men whose efforts and achievements helped unify the States and create one cohesive nation "History is rarely as charming and entertaining as when it's told by Simon Winchester."-New York Times Book Review For more than two centuries, E pluribus unum-Out of many, one-has been featured on America's official government seals and stamped on its currency. But how did America become "one nation, indivisible"? What unified a growing number of disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? In this monumental history, Simon Winchester addresses these questions, bringing together the breathtaking achievements that helped forge and unify America and the pioneers who have toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizens and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings. Winchester follows in the footsteps of America's most essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, including Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery Expedition to the Pacific Coast, 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; Truckee to Laramie; Seattle to Anchorage, introducing these fascinating men and others-some familiar, some forgotten, some hardly known-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, lively, and erudite look at the way in which the most powerful nation on earth came together, from one of our most entertaining, probing, and insightful observers.


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The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Atlantic delivers his first book about America: a fascinating look at the men whose efforts and achievements helped unify the States and create one cohesive nation "History is rarely as charming and entertaining as when it's told by Simon Winchester."-New York Times Book Review For more than two centuries, E pluribus unum-Ou The acclaimed New York Times bestselling author of Atlantic delivers his first book about America: a fascinating look at the men whose efforts and achievements helped unify the States and create one cohesive nation "History is rarely as charming and entertaining as when it's told by Simon Winchester."-New York Times Book Review For more than two centuries, E pluribus unum-Out of many, one-has been featured on America's official government seals and stamped on its currency. But how did America become "one nation, indivisible"? What unified a growing number of disparate states into the modern country we recognize today? In this monumental history, Simon Winchester addresses these questions, bringing together the breathtaking achievements that helped forge and unify America and the pioneers who have toiled fearlessly to discover, connect, and bond the citizens and geography of the U.S.A. from its beginnings. Winchester follows in the footsteps of America's most essential explorers, thinkers, and innovators, including Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery Expedition to the Pacific Coast, 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; Truckee to Laramie; Seattle to Anchorage, introducing these fascinating men and others-some familiar, some forgotten, some hardly known-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, lively, and erudite look at the way in which the most powerful nation on earth came together, from one of our most entertaining, probing, and insightful observers.

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

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This sweeping history of largely unsung heroes of vision and creativity behind America’s exploration and infrastructure development was uplifting and informative. Starting with Lewis and Clarke, Winchester’s lively narrative brings to life the stories of key individuals for charting the young nation’s geography and geology, exploiting its waterways, building roads, canals, and railroads, linking its far reaches by telegraph and then by telephone, radio, and electricity. We take so much for grant This sweeping history of largely unsung heroes of vision and creativity behind America’s exploration and infrastructure development was uplifting and informative. Starting with Lewis and Clarke, Winchester’s lively narrative brings to life the stories of key individuals for charting the young nation’s geography and geology, exploiting its waterways, building roads, canals, and railroads, linking its far reaches by telegraph and then by telephone, radio, and electricity. We take so much for granted, but each of these achievements involved a human story and a host of challenges. He puts himself on the road to places that are significant to these accomplishments, so his storytelling from history becomes integrated with his personal travelogue. He makes an odd frame for organizing his narrative in relation to the five classic Oriental elements of wood, earth, water, fire, and metal, but his progression is logical enough without straining to these metaphors. I like the thrust of his overall urge to account for the bones and flesh of America’s stable unity of states and peoples despite so much diversity. Winchester writes with energy (and occasional hyperbole) that was fun to listen to in his reading for the audiobook version. The effort clearly reflects his admiration of his adopted nation. His special affinity for geology and map making I was already a fan of from previous works of his that I’ve read. He acknowledges the bad deal and genocidal proportions of how Native Americans were treated effectively as impediments to Manifest Destiny of white dominion over all resources. However, the human achievements of the explorers, engineers and the dreamers still deserve our interest and appreciation. He tries to get at what drives them and finds admirable aspects of their personalities relevant to their talents and actions, but he does not shy away from varied contribution of self-centeredness, greed, jealousy, or lunacy behind their successes. I appreciate his probing mind, sense of wonder over human creativity, and ability to put so many threads of history into his tapestry.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    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 in 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joy D

    This ambitious undertaking is Simon Winchester’s attempt to show how the America came together into one nation. It is structured in a logical way, considering the vastness of the topic, in five categories: wood, earth, water, fire, and metal. The author covers a wide swath of American history, highlighting many familiar names as well as unsung heroes, providing the reader enough information to get a sense of their personalities and eccentricities. He covers such diverse undertakings as explorati This ambitious undertaking is Simon Winchester’s attempt to show how the America came together into one nation. It is structured in a logical way, considering the vastness of the topic, in five categories: wood, earth, water, fire, and metal. The author covers a wide swath of American history, highlighting many familiar names as well as unsung heroes, providing the reader enough information to get a sense of their personalities and eccentricities. He covers such diverse undertakings as exploration, geological surveys, pioneering, canals, railroads, mines, highways, electricity, telegraphy, radio, telephones, television, and the internet. Simon Winchester, born in the UK, became an American citizen in 2011, and this book clearly shows his affection for his adopted country. Winchester is a skilled storyteller. He employs an elegant style sprinkled with dry humor. He weaves in personal stories of his many travels to these regions, connecting more current endeavors to those of the past. This book is engaging and wonderfully written. The audio book is well-read by the author. Listening to this book is like being immersed in a well-researched documentary. I enjoyed it tremendously.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jay Schutt

    An enjoyable book which describes the connections made by men of "true grit" who, from the Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark to the creation of the World Wide Web, made America the great nation that it is. The author wove a story of his personal experiences on research for this book with essays and historical facts of those both familiar to us and by those more obscure names in history who helped connect the U.S. from coast to coast. From early river exploration and the creation of canals An enjoyable book which describes the connections made by men of "true grit" who, from the Corps of Discovery led by Lewis and Clark to the creation of the World Wide Web, made America the great nation that it is. The author wove a story of his personal experiences on research for this book with essays and historical facts of those both familiar to us and by those more obscure names in history who helped connect the U.S. from coast to coast. From early river exploration and the creation of canals to the Transcontinental railroad to the inventions of the telegraph, telephone, electric power, radio and television networks, the internet and many more. A fascinating and educational read.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Shiloah

    Well-written. Well-researched. I learned so much. Definitely a five-star book for me.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    As a fan of Simon Winchester’s previous books (Krakatoa, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and The Professor and the Madman) I was intrigued by a book about the history of the United States from someone who usually tells fascinating and little known histories of the subjects he writes on. Winchester does not disappoint in this volume about the men who shaped this country (and for the feminists out there Sacagawea is thrown into the mix) through a variety of development eras. These eras which do As a fan of Simon Winchester’s previous books (Krakatoa, A Crack in the Edge of the World, and The Professor and the Madman) I was intrigued by a book about the history of the United States from someone who usually tells fascinating and little known histories of the subjects he writes on. Winchester does not disappoint in this volume about the men who shaped this country (and for the feminists out there Sacagawea is thrown into the mix) through a variety of development eras. These eras which do overlap to a large extent are broken up into Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal (they don’t make Captain Planet when they united but do make for an interesting historical read). The era of Wood focuses on the division of land in the country and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 spearheaded by Thomas Jefferson and set up the ideal development that would be used in the future with public space and schools being set aside as towns were built across the country. Earth covers the explores that mapped the west from Lewis and Clark to John C. Freemont the Pathfinder and the mapping explorations that led to the development of the famed westward trails (Oregon, Santa Fe, California, Utah). Water covers the development of canals in America from the shuttered attempt by Washington to unite the Potomac into Ohio to the very successful Eire Canal that changed the face of American economics in the early 19th century. Fire and Metal overlap a great deal and are really on the technological advancements of railroads and organized economies they bring with them. This includes the telegraph and communication transformation as well as the infrastructure of road building under President Eisenhower. The modern era focuses on radio, telephone, electricity and the internet. While this is not a comprehensive history and there are a litany of things that could be pointed to as having been skipped over (oil, space flight, ect). That being said if you are looking for vignettes into the history of America and little told histories of people who helped shape this country than this is a book you will not want to miss.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Serinus Canaria

    The only explanation given for the striking lack of women in this book (no explanation at all is given for the lack of people of colour), which purports to tell of those "visionary figures" who played a part in the unification of the United States is that: "Though we might nowadays wish it were otherwise, most - but not all - were men." Right. So it's not that the author's research was so one-sided as to ignore the many contributions that women have made to the bringing together of the United St The only explanation given for the striking lack of women in this book (no explanation at all is given for the lack of people of colour), which purports to tell of those "visionary figures" who played a part in the unification of the United States is that: "Though we might nowadays wish it were otherwise, most - but not all - were men." Right. So it's not that the author's research was so one-sided as to ignore the many contributions that women have made to the bringing together of the United States? Perhaps that was unfair - after all, this book is focused largely on geographical and (early) technological developments in which women, unfortunately, were unable to play a part. Those were the days, after all, where women were alternately ignored and demeaned. Oh, but wait, there is a woman in there! It's the Native American woman, Sacagawea, who accompanied Lewis and Clark on part of their expedition, and who: "has since become inestimable - even if her value may have been magnified and driven by the popular demand for compelling narrative, and maybe also by a need to introduce a decisively female personality into the largely male-dominated world of the Western story." ...oh. But fair enough, maybe it is all P.C. hype; maybe she was just a wallflower. And maybe the author was working with a word limit, in which case only the most relevant, important figures could be presented. But then there's Clarence King - a geologist-cum-detective who perfectly fits the mould of the book's other heroes, but who, apparently, deserved a seven-page tangent. Here, we learn that, as a result of his "fondness for dark-skinned and native women", he takes a black woman as wife under a false identity, and proceeds to live a double life - one which is only revealed to his wife, via a letter written on his death-bed. It's certainly a powerful little anecdote, and, as the author points out, an example of how "crossing the lines of race and class" have served to bring the U.S. together. But hold on! I thought we were focussing on the outdoorsy-types, those people who traipsed around the country, discovering waterways and crossing mountains? I thought we were reading about those others who, through their technological prowess, invented the means by which the country could be ever more interconnected? Wasn't that the reason we couldn't include mention of the female suffragettes and feminists who brought about a united country through their pioneering work to achieve gender equality? Wasn't that the reason we couldn't hear about the black civil rights activists striving to bring about unity through racial equality? What was the reason, then?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mag

    Winchester is engaging here as usual, but this is a somewhat uneven book. Unforgettable anecdotes and descriptions that effortlessly flow into one another mingle with the ones that are less interesting and choppier. For whatever reason the whole structure doesn't gel that well, and it may be due to a somewhat artificial imposition of the form of the five Japanese elements: wood, earth, metal, water, and fire on the themes of American unification. The division is meant as a tribute to Winchester’ Winchester is engaging here as usual, but this is a somewhat uneven book. Unforgettable anecdotes and descriptions that effortlessly flow into one another mingle with the ones that are less interesting and choppier. For whatever reason the whole structure doesn't gel that well, and it may be due to a somewhat artificial imposition of the form of the five Japanese elements: wood, earth, metal, water, and fire on the themes of American unification. The division is meant as a tribute to Winchester’s Japanese mother in law, and for the longest time I was pondering how it fit with the overall scheme for the book. The mystery is solved by the end of the book where Winchester talks about all the immigrants and communities coming together to form a nation, indivisible, as he says. Very clever in the end. He also makes it very clear that what brought that nation of migrants and loose individuals together was a strong centralized government, so it seems to be a book with a mission for today’s American political climate. All that notwithstanding, there were parts better befitting the themes, and parts that were not so successful, or more lacking, in my opinion. We have a cauldron of individuals ‘melting in the pot’ including all the big adventurers, pioneers and inventors: from Lewis and Clark to Morse, Tesla and Edison, and many not so well known yet definitely memorable characters like Clarence King, Thomas Harris MacDonald and Theodore Judah, and the anecdotes about them are always engaging. Curiously, the chapter I found least coherent is the chapter on Winchester’s specialty- geology. Maybe it is true that it’s most difficult to write on what you know best. My favourite chapter, on the other hand, was when the American story was ‘fanned by fire’. Winchester discusses the development of the railway and highway systems and eventually finishes with the planes there. It’s not only interesting overall with at least four really memorable moments with the Donner Pass crossing, Judge farming family reflections, encounter with a Yukon Mountie and the grounding of the planes following 9/11, but it’s also quite beautifully written and in a form that I like reading Winchester most, a travelogue. It made me nostalgic for a good American road trip. Next summer. Can’t wait.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Craig Fiebig

    Oh boy, a generally interesting book filled with several reminders of that which made America exceptional. Unfortunately the author's understanding of the roles played by the several participants involved in each step of American progress seems overly influenced by the desperately poorly researched "work" of Howard Zinn. The author's pathological clinging to the wish that Roosevelt's policies mitigated the impact of the great depression is not supportable by any reasonable temporal analysis of t Oh boy, a generally interesting book filled with several reminders of that which made America exceptional. Unfortunately the author's understanding of the roles played by the several participants involved in each step of American progress seems overly influenced by the desperately poorly researched "work" of Howard Zinn. The author's pathological clinging to the wish that Roosevelt's policies mitigated the impact of the great depression is not supportable by any reasonable temporal analysis of the timing of FDR's policies. FDR's attempts were early in his administration and largely mirrors of or extensions to those of his predecessor. Ultimately the notion of their success is a myth running counter to the persistence of economic contraction and expansion of unemployment until the opening phases of the Second World War. Roosevelt proved an able wartime administrator, largely due to his willingness to leave its execution to abler men. But his over-confidence in his and the views of the people on his economics team eliminated any chance for a domestic recovery from the depression. Later in the book, common sense fled the page when the author sought to describe NPR as "non-partisan". I love NPR, listen to it every day yet assert with all possible confidence that only someone entirely unaware of the spectrum of political discourse in the US could describe it as non-partisan. To suggest otherwise is folly. One might elect to agree with its elitist, parochial, DC-centric, hyper-progressive view of the world and that is totally okay. But non-partisan? Please ...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ted Hunt

    Despite outward appearances, this is not really a history book. It is the author's paean to his adopted nation (Winchester was born in England), and thus it is a very personal, idiosyncratic trip through certain episodes of American history. The author is interested in analyzing the various human achievements that knit this physically enormous nation together, and the book includes some interesting vignettes about some under appreciated individuals and achievements (explorer John Wesley Powell, Despite outward appearances, this is not really a history book. It is the author's paean to his adopted nation (Winchester was born in England), and thus it is a very personal, idiosyncratic trip through certain episodes of American history. The author is interested in analyzing the various human achievements that knit this physically enormous nation together, and the book includes some interesting vignettes about some under appreciated individuals and achievements (explorer John Wesley Powell, long distance flyer Calbraith Perry Rodgers, the men who created National Public Radio, among others). Other stories--Lewis and Clark, the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad-- are more mainstream and are explored more thoroughly in other books. There were some interesting new things that I had not encountered before, most notably that Franklin Roosevelt was the first President to explore the idea of an interstate highway system. However, the author's organization framework, in which he uses the five classical elements of wood, earth, water, fire and metal to explain the process of unification, is a little contrived and means that chronology is of secondary importance in his presentation. I was also disappointed that there was not more energy devoted to fact-checking, as the occasional factual errors collectively work to tarnish the overall appearance of the work. But what I objected to the most (and the reason that I do not call this a real "history" book) is that the author's view of the expansion and unification of the nation uses a type of analysis that was discarded generations ago by real historians. The early parts of this book are, simply put, white man's history. It is a story of triumph. The Indians of the west are impediments to progress, no different than the mountains. The U.S. acquired half of Mexico via "a treaty", not through an aggressive war of conquest. The author does note the contributions of the Chinese to the construction of the transcontinental railroad, but aside from that, his history of the west contains none of the complex ethnic and racial features that American historians having been writing about for decades. I think that the author would have been better served by concentrating on 20th century technology (planes, radio, cars, etc.), than to include a Ronald Reaganesque version of the conquest of the American west.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tom Gase

    Actually finished this about a week ago and forgot to write a review. It was really good at parts and really slow at parts. I liked the stories on Lewis and Clark, the invention of the US highways, the info on Tesla and Morse, and I liked the stuff about the National Parks and info on the Pacific Northwest. His books tend to make me want to travel a lot. This book is a little slow though as I didn't really care about the stuff on the canal's that much and some other chapters. Winchester is a pre Actually finished this about a week ago and forgot to write a review. It was really good at parts and really slow at parts. I liked the stories on Lewis and Clark, the invention of the US highways, the info on Tesla and Morse, and I liked the stuff about the National Parks and info on the Pacific Northwest. His books tend to make me want to travel a lot. This book is a little slow though as I didn't really care about the stuff on the canal's that much and some other chapters. Winchester is a pretty good historian though and this was a good book and if anything, a good reference book for the future.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan Ragsdale

    Compelling, albeit incomplete, history that is well-told by Winchester, a naturalized American. He does an excellent job of explaining how the American spirit was shaped those who helped establish the "tangible connections" that helped to unite our country. These tangible connections (aka infrastructure) includes roads, canals, railways, telephone lines, and power grids, and, more recently, digital networks. This explains, at least to some extent, the almost complete absence of women from Winche Compelling, albeit incomplete, history that is well-told by Winchester, a naturalized American. He does an excellent job of explaining how the American spirit was shaped those who helped establish the "tangible connections" that helped to unite our country. These tangible connections (aka infrastructure) includes roads, canals, railways, telephone lines, and power grids, and, more recently, digital networks. This explains, at least to some extent, the almost complete absence of women from Winchester's narrative since, until relative recent history, women were simply not afforded the opportunity to conceive, develop, design, or build large-scale infrastructure projects. Thankfully, while there is still room for far more progress, women now have greater opportunities to lead in industries that contribute to our "unifying" infrastructures.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I'm not sure why I went for another Winchester book when I was so distinctly underwhelmed by the last one I read, but I thought I'd give it a try. It is exactly what it says on the tin: a boy's own history of the United States, albeit a highly disorganized one since Winchester's choice to insert his own travels and to organize the book around five elements doesn't make for a very coherent read. I was put off almost right from the go by the curt dismissal of Sacagawea (really not important, just I'm not sure why I went for another Winchester book when I was so distinctly underwhelmed by the last one I read, but I thought I'd give it a try. It is exactly what it says on the tin: a boy's own history of the United States, albeit a highly disorganized one since Winchester's choice to insert his own travels and to organize the book around five elements doesn't make for a very coherent read. I was put off almost right from the go by the curt dismissal of Sacagawea (really not important, just along for the ride, mostly a nice symbol of the harmlessness of the expedition) and got more irritated from there. The most irritating thing about the book is that Winchester is perfectly well aware that there are alternate perspectives to the paean of WASP progress he prefers, but he brushes it right off. (Yes, wasn't Wounded Knee tragic? Yay, opening of the West!) Gave up about halfway through when I got bored, flipped to the index, and realized that of the scant handful of named women, three entries were in fact the same twentieth-century actress. Speaks volumes of Mr. Winchester's view of women's contribution to American history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Well researched, well written. If you like Winchester’s other works – “The Man Who Loved China,” “A Crack in the Edge of the World,” and a dozen others – you’ll enjoy this history of America, the way it should be taught in schools. Winchester describes America’s most crucial innovators, thinkers, and explorers, from Lewis and Clark to the civil engineer who oversaw the creation of the more than three million miles of highways, and everything in between. How easy it is to forget the inventions th Well researched, well written. If you like Winchester’s other works – “The Man Who Loved China,” “A Crack in the Edge of the World,” and a dozen others – you’ll enjoy this history of America, the way it should be taught in schools. Winchester describes America’s most crucial innovators, thinkers, and explorers, from Lewis and Clark to the civil engineer who oversaw the creation of the more than three million miles of highways, and everything in between. How easy it is to forget the inventions that made America great.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Eleanor

    If American history was taught in the manner this was written, perhaps Americans would be more appreciative (and knowledgable) of their heritage. This book is entertaining and absorbing. I learned much about this country that I had not known, but the learning was painless. It's history at its best: human interest and intriguing events woven into a compelling narrative. Simon Winchester is a skilled writer at the top of his game with this volume.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lori L (She Treads Softly)

    Simon Winchester's latest book, The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible is definitely one of the best books (and not just nonfiction) I have read this year. Think about it. As a country we (or our ancestors) were a hodge-podge of ethnic backgrounds, religions, and languages. America has had to make a union for itself and Winchester details beautifully some of the deliberate acts of Americans that have bro Simon Winchester's latest book, The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible is definitely one of the best books (and not just nonfiction) I have read this year. Think about it. As a country we (or our ancestors) were a hodge-podge of ethnic backgrounds, religions, and languages. America has had to make a union for itself and Winchester details beautifully some of the deliberate acts of Americans that have brought us together as one united country, beyond the national concept of ideals on which our country was founded and constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. He explains that this book is what might be called the "physiology and the physics of the country, the strands of connective tissue that have allowed it to achieve all it has, and yet to keep itself together while doing so." For The Men Who United the States Winchester structured his book around the five so-called classical elements, Wood, Earth, Water, Fire, and Metal, rather than following a more traditional organizational format to explain how America became a united country. Wood was a dominant feature of every early voyage across our country, so it is a fitting element to represent the first explorers and settlers. This section, naturally, follows the exploration of Lewis and Clark and to a lesser extent the settlers crossing the country. Earth includes the land itself and all of the undiscovered wealth and awe found in America. I especially loved this chapter because it focuses on America's geology and the exploration of many of our unique national treasures. Winchester includes the ravels and exploration of Robert Owen, William Maclure, John Wesley Powell, Ferdinand Hayden (Yellowstone, including painter Thomas Moran and photographer William Henry Jackson) Water is, naturally, representative of the first highways for early travelers and later for trade, and to generate power. Our rivers are unique in America and Winchester explains why and how the building of canals helped us for commerce and transportation. Even more uniting was the improvements made to local roads. (Interesting previously unknown facts: John McAdam created the macadamized road and then Edgar Hooley decided to spray tar on it creating tarmacadam, or tarmac, in America called blacktop ) Fire is indicative of engines and the ability they afforded us to travel across our country. Robert Fulton's steam engine created even swifter travel and people could begin to travel far distances in less time. "By 1870, the railroad industry had become the country’s second biggest employer, after agriculture. Soon the dominant railroad companies became the country’s biggest corporations..." A transcontinental railroad line changed the country and getting through the Sierras was an incredible feat. (After living in Reno, NV, for 5 years at 5500 feet, I loved Winchester's Donner Pass story.) Naturally the interstate highway system and cars made us an even more mobile society, but also helped unite us as a country. Metal encompasses the wire cable used for the telegraph, telephone, electricity, but also includes radio, television and the internet. Once we started spreading phone lines and electric lines across the country, it totally changed the way we live. “Making a Neighborhood of a Nation,” said Southwestern Bell’s advertisements. Radio and TV became our entertainment - and also a huge money-making opportunity for businesses. Add to that the internet, which was conceived in America. (Joseph Licklider, Vint Cerf, and Robert Kahn, can fairly be said to have conceived and invented the basic structure of the modern Internet.) Contents include PART I: WHEN AMERICA’S STORY WAS DOMINATED BY WOOD, 1793–1805 A View across the Ridge; Drawing a Line in the Sand; Peering through the Trees; The Frontier and the Thesis; The Wood Was Become Grass; Encounters with the Sioux; First Lady of the Plains; High Plains Rafters; Passing the Gateway; Shoreline Passage PART II: WHEN AMERICA’S STORY WENT BENEATH THE EARTH, 1809–1901 The Lasting Benefit of Harmony; The Science That Changed America; Drawing the Colors of Rocks; The Wellspring of Knowledge; The Tapestry of Underneath; Setting the Lures; Off to See the Elephant; The West, Revealed; The Singular First Adventure of Kapurats; The Men Who Gave Us Yellowstone; Diamonds, Sex, and Race PART III: WHEN THE AMERICAN STORY TRAVELED BY WATER, 1803–1900 Journeys to the Fall Line; The Streams beyond the Hills; The Pivot and the Feather; The First Big Dig; The Wedded Waters of New York; The Linkmen Cometh; That Ol’ Man River PART IV: WHEN THE AMERICAN STORY WAS FANNED BY FIRE, 1811–1956 May the Roads Rise Up; Rain, Steam, and Speed; The Annihilation of the In-Between; The Immortal Legacy of Crazy Judah; Colonel Eisenhower’s Epiphanic Expedition; The Colossus of Roads; And Then We Looked Up; The Twelve-Week Crossing PART V: WHEN THE AMERICAN STORY WAS TOLD THROUGH METAL, 1835–TOMORROW To Go, but Not to Move; The Man Who Tamed the Lightning; The Signal Power of Human Speech; With Power for One and All; Lighting the Corn, Powering the Prairie; The Talk of the Nation; Making Money from Air; Television: The Irresistible Force; The All of Some Knowledge EPILOGUE What makes this history of the making of America special is that Winchester also traveled to many of the historical sites he mentions and includes anecdotes about his experiences. And I get it. I understand what Winchester, a new American citizen, is saying. I have lived many different places in this country and, while there are regional quirks, we really are one people thanks to many of the reason's Winchester highlights in his book. The Men Who United the States includes many photographs, maps, illustrations, footnotes, a bibliography, and index - all things that please me greatly. I have greatly enjoyed every book I have read by Simon Winchester and The Men Who United the States is no exception. While is is not an exhaustive history textbook of every invention, item, or person that has contributed to making us a united people, it is an exceptionally well written account that points to some of the people, inventions, and actions that helped make us one country. Very Highly Recommended - I will be getting a hardcover copy of this book, especially since I had an uncorrected advanced reading copy. Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of HarperCollins via Edelweiss for review purposes.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Chris Bauer

    I sometimes wonder if reading a book by Winchester is some kind of mental illusion. I've read a number of his works in the past and have always enjoyed them, recalling different chapters fondly. But when I'm actually 2/3 through any of his works, it sometimes feels like I'm slogging uphill a snowy peak. The view is totally worth it at the end, but it does require some work. His latest book, "The Men Who United the States" is interesting on several levels. First is the content and focus of the wor I sometimes wonder if reading a book by Winchester is some kind of mental illusion. I've read a number of his works in the past and have always enjoyed them, recalling different chapters fondly. But when I'm actually 2/3 through any of his works, it sometimes feels like I'm slogging uphill a snowy peak. The view is totally worth it at the end, but it does require some work. His latest book, "The Men Who United the States" is interesting on several levels. First is the content and focus of the work itself; the bold people who made the US what it is today. Starting with early explorers by river, then by land, then capitalists, on to inventors and pioneers in both the literal and figurative sense, Winchester provides a series of rapid fire "mini-bios" on key people and events in US history which in many cases quite literally shaped the nation. On another level there are personal essays about his own travels in the US and the intriguing places and people he meets while on his journey. A couple almost brought me to tears from pride in what he writes about the core of this country, things which we all too often forget. In a few of essays it almost seems that he is writing love letters of a kind to a United States which exists primarily in memories and scattered, isolated pockets of the country. Finally he was inspired by Chinese lore of the Five Elements when writing the book and attempts to lay out the book in a chronological fashion but overlays that structure with adherence to the classical elements - wood, water, fire, earth and metal. After reading the touching foreward in which he describes the reasoning behind this decision, it sort of slipped to the back of my mind. But when reading the work, his approach really does work and provides an additional axis of construction for the chapters. I very much enjoyed this well-researched and thoughtful book, but felt it was not quite up to his normal levels of excellence in prior works such as "Krakatoa". Still enjoyable and worth the read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It turned out not to be what I expected, mostly because of the way the information was organized. The author chose to organize the book into sections with each section recounting America's history in the sense that it reflects the 5 classical elements: wood, earth, water, fire, and metal. At first I was a little confused by this, but as I read on I saw how this was actually a brilliant way of organizing the historical information. In the "wood" section, he wrote a I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It turned out not to be what I expected, mostly because of the way the information was organized. The author chose to organize the book into sections with each section recounting America's history in the sense that it reflects the 5 classical elements: wood, earth, water, fire, and metal. At first I was a little confused by this, but as I read on I saw how this was actually a brilliant way of organizing the historical information. In the "wood" section, he wrote about the earliest times in America when wood was so important for many reasons. He discussed Thomas Jefferson, Lewis and Clark, and the westward expansion of the country. In the "earth" section, he discussed the important geologists in America's history, the discovery of the metal and mineral resources in the west, and a fascinating section on how Yellowstone was discovered so late in time. The "water" section talked mostly about the canal systems that were built in America in the 19th century and their subsequent abandonment for newer and better technology. The "fire" section discussed the advent of the steam engine, the building of railroads and road systems, especially the interstate road system, and the invention of the automobile and the airplane. The final section on "metal" discussed the inventions of the telegraph, electricity, the light bulb, the telephone, radio, television, and the Internet. All in all, pretty fascinating stuff. I could hardly put the book down when I was nearing the end as I found it so interesting. This was a great history read in that he gives you an overview with the general information but does not get bogged down into too many details, which is a problem for me sometimes when I read history. I count this as one of the best history books I've read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    In this book, Simon Winchester tells the story of how the American infrastructure was built. The expansive and sparsely inhabited United States became more and more accessible as technological inventions allowed Americans to move back and forth across our vast country at a faster and faster pace. He features several different explorers and inventors who contributed their efforts and inventions to the "Uniting of the States". His first chapter, not surprisingly, is about the Lewis and Clark exped In this book, Simon Winchester tells the story of how the American infrastructure was built. The expansive and sparsely inhabited United States became more and more accessible as technological inventions allowed Americans to move back and forth across our vast country at a faster and faster pace. He features several different explorers and inventors who contributed their efforts and inventions to the "Uniting of the States". His first chapter, not surprisingly, is about the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804-1806. From there, he moves on to the building of canals, the transcontinental railway, and our interstate highway system. He also delves into innovations in communications, for example, the telegraph, morse code, radio, and television. Some of the stories were of more interest than others and at times I thought he went astray with some unnecessary tangents. I do think it's worth a read, as it has quite a few enlightening stories about the western expansion and the people who helped create our infrastructure. It is written in his usual entertaining and casual style. The audio version of the book is excellent - Simon Winchester narrates it, and as always, does an excellent job.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This is interpreted history through the eyes of the author. And it, IMHO, should not be classified in the non-fiction category as to progressions and causes /effects. At least not to a 70% accurate degree. And I've read enough by 120 pages to know that I'd rather read biography or individual subject matter that holds research to a first tier degree. This doesn't. Indivisible with the Civil War a single bump through his eyes. Someone's eccentric is another's normal. Definitions are also murky.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Newfell

    Outstanding account of the various scientists, explorers and inventors that united the nation into a cohesive entity. The telegraph, telephone, radio and the interstate highway system are all examples of how the various sub cultures in the USA became more homogenous. Informative and well written.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I always enjoy Simon Winchester's books as a scientific armchair travel genre, and this did not disappoint. I also listened to the audio version, read by Winchester, so it was neat to hear it in his voice.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jrobertus

    This is a wonderful read; Winchester is one of my favorite authors and he always spins a fascinating non-fiction tale. Indeed, this is the ninth of his books I have reviewed. Here he surveys the men and their discoveries or inventions that helped weave America into one nation – at least to the extent that it is. He has an unusual framework, using the ancient Chinese elements of wood, earth, water, fire, and metal to arrange the narrative. Early America is dominated by wood and he focuses on Thom This is a wonderful read; Winchester is one of my favorite authors and he always spins a fascinating non-fiction tale. Indeed, this is the ninth of his books I have reviewed. Here he surveys the men and their discoveries or inventions that helped weave America into one nation – at least to the extent that it is. He has an unusual framework, using the ancient Chinese elements of wood, earth, water, fire, and metal to arrange the narrative. Early America is dominated by wood and he focuses on Thomas Jefferson’s fascination with the land and the Lewis and Clarke expedition. Later he talks about the land, maps and surveyors who scouted the nation. Canals and their impact on commerce, growth, and the settling of the Midwest are a theme. Later water joins fire as steam power energizes manufacturing and rails span the continent to make America a continental nation. Finally, electricity makes its debut and the telegraph revolutionizes American society. This is followed by radio, recall FDR’s fire side chats, help homogenize the country bring rural farms the news and entertainment common in cities. Then television and the internet bring us up to today. The key role of the Federal Government is illustrated at each stage. The mapping, surveying, platting of the land across the Appalachians was the work of the government. The canals were built with tax money and railroads were capitalized by government land grants. Even the internet was conceived of the government, initially to unite military centers, but later the ARPANET was turned over to the NSF to build the internet, including all the protocols to run it. One unsettling note is the sour state of commercial radio and some TV, like Fox “news”, where instead of uniting the nation; angry voices try to divide the populace, keeping a subset of Americans in a constant uproar just short of violence. In a somewhat similar vein, the incredible diversity of the internet allows Americans to hide away in their own little niche and ignore the wider tapestry of the country. I guess we’ll see what happens.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Winchester in this book tells the history of the various innovations and the eccentric people that brought them to the world, all of which served to unite the United States. The book is not without its oddities. Winchester aligns the various eras into a framework based on the ancient Chinese elements of wood, earth, water, fire and metal. The material does roughly align, but the framework is definitely forced. Additionally, interspersed throughout are stories of Winchester’s own travels. While t Winchester in this book tells the history of the various innovations and the eccentric people that brought them to the world, all of which served to unite the United States. The book is not without its oddities. Winchester aligns the various eras into a framework based on the ancient Chinese elements of wood, earth, water, fire and metal. The material does roughly align, but the framework is definitely forced. Additionally, interspersed throughout are stories of Winchester’s own travels. While these do serve to bring the history into the present, these sections also read like an obscure travel guide to roadside markers. Overall, though, Winchester’s historical selections are incredibly interesting. From the initial explorations of the woods, plains, mountains and waterways, to the development of the roads, railroads and airplanes that allowed travel and trade to happen, these innovations are littered with people relegated to the obscurity of history but without whose efforts the country would not exist. The development in communications that have progressed from Morse codes telegraphs to the current internet capabilities, these innovations also have united people. This is an interesting history filled with stories that should be remembered. See my other reviews here!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    This book covers a huge amount of time and a ton of change so of course it can only brush past some very important events and people. The contributions of women are hardly mentioned in this book. The author's personal thoughts and stories are woven throughout and add another dimension to the story. It's interesting how he uses the five Chinese classic elements as a framework, though everything understandably doesn't quite fit under the categories. Even so, I think it's an interesting overview of This book covers a huge amount of time and a ton of change so of course it can only brush past some very important events and people. The contributions of women are hardly mentioned in this book. The author's personal thoughts and stories are woven throughout and add another dimension to the story. It's interesting how he uses the five Chinese classic elements as a framework, though everything understandably doesn't quite fit under the categories. Even so, I think it's an interesting overview of U.S. history, progress, inventions, and technology that have impacted the United States. I have visited all but three of the states and have lived in seven of them. In particular this book brought back happy memories from my preteen years in Iowa, some adult years in central New York, and many vacations throughout other states. I've had over a half century of witnessing some of the changes. It's truly remarkable how this country has evolved.

  26. 5 out of 5

    spoko

    By far, not my favorite of Winchester's books. I'm not sold on the idea that this book needed to be written in the first place, frankly, especially in the way that it was. In the end it's sort of a glorified how-the-West-was-won narrative, though it extends before and after the actual taking of the western lands into the hands of Europeans and their descendants. There are a few interesting insights, and any book like this will surprise with a few facts that contradict what you thought you knew. By far, not my favorite of Winchester's books. I'm not sold on the idea that this book needed to be written in the first place, frankly, especially in the way that it was. In the end it's sort of a glorified how-the-West-was-won narrative, though it extends before and after the actual taking of the western lands into the hands of Europeans and their descendants. There are a few interesting insights, and any book like this will surprise with a few facts that contradict what you thought you knew. I found Winchester's writing style engaging, as usual. But did I come away with a greater understanding of how the United States came to be such a large community (if in fact we even accept that premise)? Not really. Is there enough value in the individual stories of the eponymous Men to justify a book about their exploits—and especially to justify yet another history book which disregards the contributions of women & people of color? Not really.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    The major theme of Simon Winchester's The Men Who United the States is, not surprisingly, unity--a word Winchester himself uses throughout with purpose and precision, if not careless school-boy abandon. And, on one level, his focus on cohesion makes perfect sense: over 500-plus pages and four centuries of history, Winchester traces the attempts--most successful, some not--to bring areas of our growing and changing nation together, one acre or mountain pass at a time. From the post-Revolutionary The major theme of Simon Winchester's The Men Who United the States is, not surprisingly, unity--a word Winchester himself uses throughout with purpose and precision, if not careless school-boy abandon. And, on one level, his focus on cohesion makes perfect sense: over 500-plus pages and four centuries of history, Winchester traces the attempts--most successful, some not--to bring areas of our growing and changing nation together, one acre or mountain pass at a time. From the post-Revolutionary era, when small bands of men roamed the uncharted Louisiana Purchase in search of the Pacific Coast, to the 19th and 20th centuries, when inventors spanned the nation not with coaches and canoes but telegraph and telephone wire, this is the ever-growing story of how we strive to bring every last home and family into the grand American web. However, as Winchester's book moves from the untamed American wilderness to the taming generators and transformers of modern times, something surprising takes shape beneath its narrative surface, and it's not altogether encouraging. In Winchester's first chapter, the United States has no master other than itself: it is unmapped, unexplored, and unknown.* By the book's closing pages, he's narrowed the focus to the American living room--the new land of discovery, of radios and televisions and wi-fi. We've begun our journey on the most epic of scales--an entire country--and finished in an area measuring three hundred square feet. If this is the story of American ingenuity--of its endless need to explore, invent, harness, advance--it's a bittersweet closing number to what, until then, has been a grand and patriotic opera. We as a country pride ourselves on our rough beginnings and wholly original national character, and our history was never destined to be like that of our European and Asian ancestors. We did not have emperors or monarchs, nor could we boast vast palatial estates or grand museums; instead, our rulers lived humbly and governed through pragmatism, their humanness a far greater legacy in many cases than their political achievements. Monticello and Mount Vernon would never measure up to Versailles, just as the eras of men like Washington and Jefferson and Lincoln were bound to end with them, not tremble on through sons and grandsons. The American crown was a marked ballot, its palace a home built on the sweat of slaves. The bloodlines of its powerful were one thousand different rivers leading not towards thrones but away from them, into log cabins and onto battlefields and even down the well-walked streets of Chicago. It's this unpredictability, this wildness, that marks American history as something unique on the world's stage. Our birth and growth as a nation was dichotomous and dirty, and even today the legacies of those men and women who brought forth that new nation are grappled with, studied, shied away from and forgotten, as even Winchester himself points out. Taming the various frontiers of America--the land and water, the air, the engines--meant taming the very spirit of our country and its people, in much the same way grand animals throw themselves at gates and cages, yearning to be free. What happened to America was, in its own way, unnatural, even though it was also necessary and unavoidable at the same time. To see this warm, wild history descend from the Mississippi River and the Grand Canyon into well-furnished living rooms and hand-held devices is somewhat appalling in its own way--a sign that, as a nation, our landscape is not the only aspect of our animal selves that has been tamed beyond rehabilitation. The subtitle of Winchester's book--whether chosen by the author himself or prescribed by his publisher, I'm unsure--reads, "America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible." It's that last word--indivisible--that is the curse of Winchester's otherwise enthralling unity hypothesis, for while all of these men--not to mention their work--certainly did help to bring states and homes together, they also moved us towards a contemporary society that, in bringing us all together under the umbrella of Internet and television, also surreptitiously pushed us away from one another. We live one text message, Skype conversation, Tweet, or phone call away from each other--from almost anyone within our nation's borders--and yet we're desperately far away, hidden not behind miles of empty desert, towering mountain ranges, or thundering rivers, but screen names, apps, icons, and anonymous online profiles. We've spent hundreds of years spanning every possible acre of American wilderness, only to find ourselves shut inside our own individual technologies--our own crowning achievements. We've united, certainly, but less as a nation of independent people and more a land of 300 million lonely tribes, divisible by our own choosing. *The presence of millions of Native Americans was not a concern to those early pioneers and homesteaders, just as it's not much of a concern to Winchester himself. His book is almost entirely focused on the impact of white, European men and their disregard for cultural respect...something in which American history is, sad to say, not lacking. This review was originally published at There Will Be Books Galore.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    A readable jaunt through American history packed with loads of interesting detail. Winchester never gets bogged down in deep historical analysis which helps keep the book entertaining but does mean it skips over the more difficult aspects of America's past that highlight a distributed states -- slavery and the treatment of Native Americans are two obvious examples -- but a good book nonetheless.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joann Pittman

    Fantastic. So many interesting stories. Winchester is a great writer. I listened to the audio version, which the author did himself. He did an excellent job.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Fred Forbes

    Certain authors like Bill Bryson, Hampton Sides, Erik Lawson and Simon Winchester have the ability to take history and tell the tale like an absorbing novel. This story was a treat since I had the audiobook version read by Simon Winchester his own self and who better to know what to emphasize in the telling, how to pace the work, and how to get to get a point across than the author? So it was a treat that helped the miles fly by on a recent 2,400 mile road trip. While I think his organizational Certain authors like Bill Bryson, Hampton Sides, Erik Lawson and Simon Winchester have the ability to take history and tell the tale like an absorbing novel. This story was a treat since I had the audiobook version read by Simon Winchester his own self and who better to know what to emphasize in the telling, how to pace the work, and how to get to get a point across than the author? So it was a treat that helped the miles fly by on a recent 2,400 mile road trip. While I think his organizational theme -uniters of the states told in the context of the five basic elements - wood,fire, earth, metal and water - is a bit of an artifice, the story is very well done. Two aspects of the book which appealed to me were his personal comments visiting or living in some of the locations central to the story (He bought some acreage in Montana, prior to the invasion of the Hollywood types for $40,000 and was thrilled to sell it a few years later for $80,000 when he moved to Hong Kong. He relates that a realtor informed him recently that it sold for $1,200,000!) The other aspect I found appealing was the story of the lesser known people who made major contributions to our history and yet died in poverty and anonymity. Those aspects alone made the book worthy of the read. Interesting that Winchester, who is a naturalized American seems to have more respect for the potential and accomplishments of our nation than those of us who grew up here and thought we had a pretty good handle on it. So, jump in for a great trip from the Lewis and Clark expedition to the internet!

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