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Book Review

‘The Men Who United the States’ tells the untold stories

1/15/2014

book Winchester1Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Cathryn Lang

Harper

Oct. 15, 2013

$29.99

HIV

463 pp.

Acclaimed author Simon Winchester examines the development and consolidation of the United States based on the five classical elements of Wood, Earth, Water, Fire and Metal in this book, “The Men Who United the States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics and Mavericks and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible.” He weaves into his writing the stories of many important achievements, sometimes by well-known people and sometimes by obscure individuals. It is the latter stories that are so intriguing.

In the section “When the American Story Was Fanned by Fire,” Winchester relates the story of Thomas Harris MacDonald, who had tremendous influence in the development of the interstate highway system and the Alaskan Highway. He was raised near Montezuma, Iowa, and was greatly affected by his father’s difficulty in getting corn and lumber through the mud to the railroad in the late 19th century. He first served as Iowa Highway Commissioner and later as chief and commissioner of the federal Bureau of Public Roads. The interstate highway system may be more associated with Dwight Eisenhower, but the true implementer was MacDonald.

Other stories abound: the first airman who flew coast to coast in 1911; the man who developed the cathode ray tube and thus television (Farnsworth); Crazy Judah’s vision that led to the transcontinental railroad. The stories of these little-known persons are interwoven with more famous characters, all of who have been important in the uniting of our states. Again Simon Winchester has written a fascinating history. CV

Harriet Leitch retired to enjoy her grandchildren, garden, dogs, flute and to return to her love of books.

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