Author Harold Evans has chronicled American history in a most personalized way, by spotlighting seventy innovators driven by the American spirit to be remembered for their particular contributions to our everyday lives. Divided into three parts and filled with hundreds of photographs and illustrations, this coffee table book is an ideal introduction to the people, both the famous and the forgotten, who have inspired the rest of us to think beyond our self-imposed boundaries and capitalize on ideas that would benefit the greater good. What Evans does very well in his incisive narrative is show how these ideas are not exclusive to any specific group or place and how they often came about by accident or through circumstances they could have never been foreseen. The common thread is a faith in technology in its earliest incarnation when the early settlers devised windmills as a way of getting water on the Great Plains to the latest trends with the electronic whiz kids of the Internet. Even more importantly, the author traces how most of these innovators have time and again proved to be "democratizers", driven not by greed but by an ambition to be remembered. In aggregate, these innovators translated the nation's political ideals into economic reality.
Part One covers our history up to the Civil War, and the inventions one remembers from the social studies class of our youth are covered here - the cotton gin, the Colt revolver, the telegraph, the sewing machine, the bicycle - but also some surprising things like blue jeans and the credit rating. The emergence of electricity and its subsequent predominance in our lives are covered in Part Two, when Edison indeed invented the incandescent bulb, as well as the "kinetoscope", an early motion picture projector. Of course, the Wright brothers and Henry Ford are in this section for obvious reasons, but so are those responsible for plastic, gas masks, Weight Watchers, Walt Disney Enterprises and even Barbie dolls. Probably the most interesting portion is Part Three, which covers the Digital Age with the personal computer revolution fathered by DRI's Gary Kildall and the recognition of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates for commoditizing PCs into "the software equivalent of fast food". The emergence of biotechnology is covered here, as is Ted Turner's introduction of "24-hour electronic news", Joan Cooney's Sesame Street, hip-hop, eBay, and Google.
Evans makes some unsurprising conclusions - persistence is a definite requirement as is a "make it work" mentality, and many ended up in debt or destitute in the process. There is apparently no character requirement as several were not particularly moral characters and abrasive to those who hard to work with them. But they delivered...and Evans enthusiastically celebrates their creative spirits. This is a terrifically educational book for not only adults but also children as a way to inspire them to tap into their own ideas.