These inventors, beginning with Franklin, were an ingenious lot and the Gieses have engineered a well-constructed record of their achievements. The authors chart the development of particular inventions, examining not just the improvement each contributed but also related issues: the growth of American manufacturing technology generally (control of the means of production, automation, and interchangeable parts) and some personal and social aspects as well--patent claims, rivalries, working honeymoons, examples of diligence, chance, and troubled failure. The accounts are frequently enlivened by quotations from contemporary sources, such as de Tocqueville's appreciation of the frontier zone: ""The Americans in their log houses have the air of rich folk who have temporarily gone to spend a season in a hunting lodge."" Yet the author's interpretations are not always convincing (""Suddenly it occurred to him that one might run a buggy without any horse by the power of steam"") and the treatment itself has little spark. Unlike Heyn's Fire of Genius (p. 771) this covers more than the past century but the popular science level is similiar.