Reverent character sketches of some unusually self-reliant Americans.
The 30 men and women celebrated by National Geographic book and magazine editor Martin (Land of the Ascending Dragon: Rediscovering Vietnam, 1997, etc.) are all unique characters of diverse origins and stations in life—independent inventors, captains of industry, dogged scientists, simple humanitarians, adventurers and undercover agents. Among them: Jonathan Letterman, the father of battlefield medicine; Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, the young farm hand who became president of the Acme Sucker Rod Company and mayor of Toledo; Kirk Bloodsworth, the first prisoner freed by DNA evidence; John Wallace Crawford, the prototypical cowboy-poet; Clarence Saunders, the founder of the first modern supermarket, Piggly Wiggly; Mary Bowser, the slave in the kitchen of Jefferson Davis who was a Yankee spy; Hercules Mulligan, Gen. George Washington’s secret agent-tailor; and Hugh Thompson, the brave pilot who exposed the massacre at My Lai. Though presented as woefully unsung heroes, at least some of the individuals may still be remembered: the Great White Hunter of the Museum of Natural History, Carl Akeley, for example, or the noble last Stone Age American, Ishi. Hedy Lamarr, the clever movie-star inventor, has been celebrated in two recent biographies—Stephen Michael Shearer’s Beautiful (2010) and Richard Rhodes’ Hedy’s Folly (2011). Martin—who has written for younger readers, an audience for whom this book will also be appropriate—taps a seemingly inexhaustible source of material; surely there are more hidden tales of independent, feisty Americans out there somewhere.
Inspirational yarns of exceptional folks who made a difference—a bit corny but surprisingly entertaining.