My hope was that They Made America would be to the Age of Invention what A Short History of Nearly Everything was to science in general. The latter kept its part of the bargain. The former? Eh, not so much.
That isn’t to say that They Made America is a bad book. Far from it: it’s got exhaustive research, beautiful illustrations, and its written well, to boot, but it didn’t strike me like I thought it would.
To me, a mix of science and anecdote is crucial. Bryson seems to have that down, but Evans seems to dwell overlong on the anecdote and bring forth much less science. But, then, I’m a techie, and I want to know more about how the steam engine actually worked and the salient physics behind it, rather than who its inventor was sleeping with while inventing it.
Evans’ purported angle is to discuss why America seemed to capitalise more on this era than any other nation; he posits in the introduction that our success hinged not necessary on a surfeit of technical expertise, but a creativity that allowed inventors to successfully produce market and market their inventions to obvious effect.
In general, I don’t have any stinging criticisms of this book; in fact, I’d recommend it. I suppose it just wasn’t entirely what I expected it to be.