The Man Who Made America: Simon Winchester Talks New Booktags: interviews, historians
Eric Herschthal, a history doctoral student at Columbia University, has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, and elsewhere.
Most naturalized citizens have to learn something about America’s history. But Simon Winchester, the prolific British-born author who became an American citizen in 2011, tried to re-write it. His new book, The Men Who United the States, tells the nation’s history through the creation of its infrastructure—roads, canals, the telegraph, telephone, and electrical grid. Focusing on the many forgotten figures who brought these projects into being, he argues that these quotidian projects were critical to unifying a country of polyglot citizens. To write the book Winchester also went on an epic road trip, from New Harmony, Indiana to the Grand Canyon, following the footsteps of the geologists and engineers whose stories he sought to undercover. Partly a travelogue, The Men Who United the States is thus a deeply personal book, revealing unknown aspects of the nation’s past as well as the author’s. Winchester recently sat down with The Daily Beast’s Eric Herschthal in New York to discuss the book. What follows is a condensed, edited version of the interview.
You became an American citizen two years ago. How did that influence your decision to write this book?
I had long thought that America, on this particular part of its history, has been particularly hard on herself. As I was approaching the time to write the book, it was also the time of the financial meltdown, the Bush presidency—a number of things that made America, a large chunk of itself at least—feel disillusioned with itself and its standing in the world. I wanted essentially to say, I threw my lot in with this country because I believed in what it stands for. I wanted to write a book that, in essence, reminded everybody what a great experiment the United States is....
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