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Winchester's latest history profiles a huge cast of eclectic characters who helped transform America from a cluster of colonies to a unified nation through the taming of the wilderness and the expansion of the country's infrastructure. The sweeping narrative is cleverly organized into five sections-each corresponds to one of the classical elements (wood, earth, water, fire, metal) and focuses on a different phase of American exploration or development. Winchester (The Alice Behind Wonderland) masterfully evokes the excitement of the nation's early days-when opportunity and possibility were manifest in uncharted mountains and new technologies-while bringing each of his subjects to life. Some, like Lewis and Clark, are familiar, while others-like the many topographers who set down the Mexican and Canadian boundaries-are more obscure, but no less interesting. Winchester, a Brit who recently became an American citizen, also incorporates personal travel anecdotes to comment on pivotal locations. This bold decision is the key to the book's greatest achievement: conveying the large-scale narrative of unification via the small-scale experience of the individual-the creation of a people by the agglomeration of persons. Illus. and maps. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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Popular historian and prolific author Winchester (The Professor and the Madman) focuses on the history of his adopted country and the individuals who contributed to its functioning as a cohesive whole. He organizes what are for the most part biographical sketches thematically, yet chronologically, in five sections named for elements: "Wood," "Earth," "Water," "Fire," and "Metal." Under this scheme, the immense Eastern Woodlands forest offers the first unifying context, as Winchester writes about the trip across the continent by Lewis and Clark and their Shoshone guide Sacagawea. Next, "Earth" includes efforts of pioneering geologist William Maclure, his 1809 geologic map of the Appalachian Mountains, and its unifying scientific impact. "Water" transportation routes include the creation of the Erie Canal and those who championed its economic importance to local businessmen, such as flour merchant Jesse Hawley. Robert Fulton's steam engine used "Fire" to make railroads practical and efficient. "Metal" stitched together the country through Samuel Morse's use of telegraph wires to increase the speed of communication; FDR brought electricity to rural America over the objections of power companies. VERDICT Along the way, Winchester provides surprising insights into our social history, further enriching his narrative with accounts of his personal odysseys around the country. The results are highly recommended for public and school libraries and all readers looking for new and stimulating perspectives on the history of America. [See Prepub Alert 4/1/13.]--Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., -Laramie, WY (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* The ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788 provided a common legal and political framework to bind 13 supposedly sovereign states to a stronger federal government. But the U.S. was still more of a theoretical nation than an actual one. The War of 1812 and the Mexican War engendered surges of nationalism, but it required a Civil War to administer the death blow to the most extreme forms of sectionalism. Winchester, the widely acclaimed author, is a native of Great Britain who recently became an American citizen. His focus here is on the more subtle aspects of nation building. He examines the accomplishments of a variety of characters, some famous and some obscure, whose visions and mastery of emerging technologies drew Americans closer together as our geographic size expanded. Thomas Jefferson's vision of an empire of liberty led to the acquisition of the Louisiana Territory and the Lewis and Clark expedition. William Maclure, a hyperactive Scottish immigrant, provided a geological survey of vast areas of the eastern U.S. and then promoted the value of a practical education for ordinary citizens. Winchester provides a fascinating portrayal of Samuel Morse, the man who tamed the lightning, and the vital role of the telegraph in bridging distances. This is a finely crafted and valuable reminder that the evolution of our united nation was a process often accelerated by unlikely, sometimes eccentric men who operated outside the political sphere. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A 10-city author tour, e-book promotions, academic marketing, and an online publicity campaign round out the publisher's push behind this celebrated author's new book.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2010 Booklist