'They Made America'

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Memo
To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Harold Evans & His Great Book

When
I first heard about a new book just out on American entrepreneurs
and innovators I figured I could do without it. I have so many books
stacked up that people have sent me as gifts – or in hopes I would
read and review them – that even though it was written by Harold
Evans, I decided to pass. Evans, a Brit who is a big fan of America
and one of the great journalists of our time, had me think twice,
though. I was tempted. When Patricia asked me for some Christmas
ideas several weeks ago, I mentioned the book, and lo and behold
there it was under the tree.

The
first surprise was its heft. Several pounds of book. It’s only 500
pages, but on glossy paper, the better to show off the hundreds
of photographs of the subjects. And it is really the size of a coffee-table
book, about 12 x 8. Because I do most of my casual reading in bed,
a big, heavy book is discouraging right off the bat. I wondered
if I should have instead asked for an Elmore Leonard detective pocketbook.

Now
that I have lived with it for a while, though, I have decided it
is absolutely the best book I’ve had in my hands in recent memory.
It is a book I can recommend to all of you and anyone who is within
earshot. And I’ve only started reading it!! How can that be?? It’s
not even on the NYTimes bestseller list!!

The
answer is in Harold Evan’s central idea of presenting brief (but
not too brief) biographies of 50 or so fantastic men and women,
where they came from, how the evolved from little up, the ideas
that came to them, and how they fought to bring their inventions
or innovations to fruition. You can actually get an idea of these
chosen few by visiting a good encyclopedia. Harold Evans, though,
is not interested in encyclopedic facts and figures, but on just
what it is about America itself that could produce these incredible
people – from the likes of Robert Fulton and the first successful
steamboat services in the late 18th century to the Google boys of
today, Larry Page and Sergey Brin.

It’s
going to take me the rest of 2005 to read and absorb all of They
Made America
. One story per week is enough, unless you have
lots of time on your hands. But they are so beautifully researched
and written I can easily imagine each one of them providing the
foundation for a full-length motion picture. What I did was pick
out three men who I’ve known something about, none of whom I would
devote the time to read a full-length biography about: First Henry
Ford and his Model T for the masses. Second A.P. Giannini, who founded
the Bank of America for the masses. And third, Walt Disney, a really
crazy guy who gave the masses Mickey Mouse and all that went with
him.

The
space Evans devotes to each, in text and photographs, was not only
ample enough to inform me about their lives and inspirations, but
also written with a crispness and texture than made it a pleasure
to finish each – of several thousand words – without taking a
break. And in the case of Giannini and Disney, I propped up the
hefty book while reading in bed and still was gripped by the narrative
sufficiently to read well after Patricia had conked out.

Hey,
I thought I knew a lot about Giannini and had read books on the
founding of the Bank of America, and how he built it into the premiere
bank in the nation. But I never knew that when he died in 1949 his
net worth was less than $500,000, or that through his entire career
he systematically rejected pay raises or bonuses by his board of
directors. He did so on the grounds that he was not interested in
accumulating personal wealth, only in facilitating the flow of credit
to the ordinary people who build the country from the bottom-up.
He could offer lower interest rates if he passed on a megabuck salary.
Hmmm.

And
I thought I knew something about Henry Ford, but in They Made
America I learned how he was similarly driven by a desire to
produce an automobile for the common man, plus the details of how
he and his partner, James Couzens, turned the industrial world upside-down
one day in 1914 when they decided to pay their autoworkers $5 a
day instead of the prevailing $2!!

Disney
has been part of my life since I first saw Snow White and the Seven
Dwarfs at the Capitol Theatre in Pottsville, Pa., when I was still
in short pants. But I never knew that Disney could never have made
Snow White if it was not for Giannini and the Bank of America!!

One
of the things I really love about the book is that Evans celebrates
Michael Milken, not in a full-blown treatment, but at the end of
the book in a half-page, which makes it quite clear he does not
believe Mike deserved the treatment he got at the hands of the Establishment.
Innovators and inventors by their very nature challenge the status
quo, who view them as "the enemy" to be cut down in order
to preserve the status quo.

This
is an exciting book, a really important book. It is published by
Little, Brown, who I’m sure is disappointed that it has not made
the NYT bestseller list. But If there is someone at Little, Brown
who sees what I see, they will market this book to the rest of the
world, in at least a dozen languages, and they will find there is
an audience among the eight billion that wants to know about what
makes greatness happen here, so they might emulate us.

The
good news is that while the book retails for $40, Amazon.com is
offering them at $24. Get one for yourself and you will be in for
a treat, one that will last for months, if not the balance of the
year. You can learn all about Ted Turner, about Edwin Land and the
Polaroid, Thomas Watson and IBM, Ida Rosenthal and the Maidenform
Brassiere, Elisha Otis and his elevator, George Eastman and Kodak,
Russell Simmons and Hip-Hop, Sam Colt and his revolver for the masses,
and dozens more.

I
guarantee you, it is worth the $24 and you will thank me for bringing
this great book to your attention.

January
3, 2005

Jude
Wanniski [send him mail]
runs the financial/political advisory service Wanniski.com.
(If you subscribe,
and check LewRockwell.com
in the referring website pull-down,
LRC gets 10%.)

Jude
Wanniski Archives

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