THE ROAD TO COLOSSUS: Invention, Technology and the Machining of America by Thomas Kiernan

THE ROAD TO COLOSSUS: Invention, Technology and the Machining of America

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

A breezy, gee-whiz account of how America became, in John Stuart Mill's phrase, the ""Colossus of industry""--by the author of assorted bios (Olivier, Arafat, Steinbeck) and other works. Best are Kiernan's informal, admiring vignettes of individuals who made a difference--inventors (Benjamin Franklin, Eli Whitney, Robert Fulton, Peter Cooper, Cyrus McCormick, Samuel Morse, Charles Goodyear, Thomas Edison), entrepreneurs (Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford), visionary politicians (Alexander Hamilton, DeWitt Clinton), scientists (Joseph Henry), engineers (the Roeblings), and little-known power-brokers (Grosvenor Lowrey)--plus appealing who-really-invented-it-first stories (the sewing machine, the conversion furnance for steel-making). The rest is forgettably amateurish. Kiernan's brief forays into the hard parts of the subject--the cultural preconditions for innovation and capital accumulation, the necessity of government intervention, the role of war, the present state of the economy--show little evidence of familiarity with the work of contemporary economic historians. There are serenely pointless footnotes to contend with (one explains that Francis Scott Key wrote only the words to the ""Star Spangled Banner,"" not the music), simplistic generalizations (the key to the nation's future is restoring our ""engineering aptitude""), and dreadful prose. (""Now, for the first time, one could sense a telescoping of time in the United States."" Or: The country's ""other foot remained stubbornly mired in a darker legacy of the past. That legacy was slavery."") Effective only when taken in small doses, with modest expectations.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1984
Publisher: Morrow