RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

They Made America, by Harold Evans

They Made America
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Since road trips couldn't exist without the inventions that make them possible -- internal combustion engines, to name an important one -- it's hard to think of a better audiobook to slip into your CD player on such a journey than Harold Evans' They Made America. As you zoom past power lines, railroad tracks, and generating plants, the author himself will regale you with the fascinating stories behind the innovators who made them integral parts of daily life. It's a refreshing way to travel through American history, and Evans' selection of subjects includes not only names you'll recognize, but also a number you might not.

The audio version of They Made America is an abridgement on five CDs. While this is not enough air time to include all of the innovators covered in Evans' formidable book, it is a well-rounded selection beginning with steamboat magnate Robert Fulton and ending with Pierre Omidyar, who started Ebay in a San Jose apartment. In between, you'll hear how Theodore Judah brought the first transcontinental railroad into being, how Samuel Colt changed the course of history with his revolver, and how Ruth Handler came up with the idea for Barbie dolls. Madame C. J. Walker is here, too, and the story of her rise from destitution to wildly successful manufacturer of hair care products.

Of course, no collection of this sort would be complete without Thomas Edison, and Evans' profile is not only a thorough outline of Edison's accomplishments, but also a picture of the man himself. The same is true of Evans' portrait of sewing machine king Eli Singer, whose unconventional personal life would have provided more than enough fodder for a fat novel.

Evans draws a distinction between innovation and invention. Invention, he claims, is only one step in a process that must also include vision and persistence. It wasn't enough that Edison invented an incandescent bulb. It was his determination to light up Manhattan that changed the world. The profiles in They Made America all reveal not only minds capable of brilliant ideas and clever constructs, but also personalities with enough stubbornness and vision to make a difference.


Megan Edwards

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