LINES SHAPING AMERICA: U.S. Historical, Economic, and Cultural "Waves" of Westward Movement and Expansion

David E. Swanberg, Author . Creative Arts $16.50 (292p) ISBN 978-0-88739-208-5

Swanberg, a retired chemical engineer, is admittedly "not a historian by training" and has "many interests"—all evident in his first book, not always to the good. He introduces each chapter with a different definition of "line," which becomes a jumping-off place to describe some historical, geographical or economic trend in American history; some will find this structure gimmicky. The conversational, unsophisticated prose is of the subject-verb-object variety. When tackling general history, Swanberg is content to ignore or give short shrift to some major historical events, and makes no pretense to original analysis. Swanberg is strongest on the interactions between applied science, economic growth and history. And while chapters entitled "Rumford Falls: The Cradle of Industrial Electrochemistry" (concerning the science of electrolytic cells) or "Nitrogen Chemistry" (about the development of a cheaper method to make explosives) might not at first glance tempt readers, they present interesting, offbeat histories of the impact of practical science on history. Swanberg's eclecticism surfaces almost haphazardly: discussions of robber barons Vanderbilt and Rockefeller; thumbnail sketches of industry scions Pierre du Pont, Herbert Dow and Henry Ford; and chapters on the architectural history of Chicago and Berkeley, Calif., Tocqueville's visit to America, and American music are full of information. This hodgepodge of events, facts, etymology and science reflects the author's curious mind and might interest others as well. But nothing here is likely to provide readers with many new critical insights. (May 15)

Reviewed on: 05/07/2001
Release date: 07/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Discover what to read next