THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA
These 47 articles, gathered from Gordon's 10 years as an American Heritage columnist, cover the post-Revolutionary period through the 1950s. Some pieces retell familiar stories, such as how Samuel Slater memorized the design of the cotton mill machinery that had made England an 18th-century superpower, smuggled the technology from England to the U.S. and helped to launch the Industrial Revolution here; how Isaac MeritSinger synthesized others' efforts and made the sewing machine, vastly improving "the standard of living of millions"; and how Sylvester Graham's health lectures ("he ascribed cholera to chicken pie and 'excessive lewdness' ") led to the development of his eponymous cracker. Other stories are obscure and intriguing historical footnotes, like the rise and fall of Liederkranz cheese and Cadillac's decision in the 1930s to market cars to African-Americans. Gordon can be feisty, as when he opines that the World Trade Center "never should have been built," and wouldn't have been but for the manipulation of government resources by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and his brother David, Chase Manhattan's chairman. Short and well written, each essay starts with some sort of tease and ends with a mild surprise or aphorism. However, when read sequentially, the pieces are marred by repetition and don't entirely satisfy—the effect is a bit like trying to make a meal out of a lot of appetizers. (June)
Forecast:Gordon is well-known for these columns and his NPR commentaries. A browser's delight, the book should achieve modest success on that basis.