I was basically looking for something to fill in my gaps in knowledge of 19th Century history, and was expecting this to be informative but dry. Instead, I was surprised how much I loved this book! We get histories of the major players in the American industrial revolution, what they innovated and what effect their mass production had on society. I learned about company towns that sprang up in Massachusetts, New York and Ohio. The author quotes (often British) observers of this societal leap forward as varied as Frances Trollpe, Isabella Lucy Bird, and Dickens himself. The history begins with Marc Brunel's pulley block factory in Portsmouth, England which started the British industrial revolution, then continues on with his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, considered one of the greatest Britons of all time. Then we move to America where the idea of mass production gets applied to nearly every possible commercial product possible. The author always notes how each industry changes American lives, whether the change occurs in war, transportation, clothing or diet. This book perfectly synthesizes in-depth information while taking the widest view possible. The eventual supremacy of the U.S. over Britain is always alluded to, but it is finally dealt with by examining the condescending attitudes toward American ingenuity that prevailed in Britain throughout the 19th Century. However, although Americans were incredibly adaptable, they also had the advantage of starting out in the comfortable position of Number Two, enabling them to develop others' long-gestating ideas, if not outright stealing them. The author then jumps ahead to the 1950s and 60s when Japan managed the same trick with the U.S., and today when China has begun to steal intellectual property from its close partners Germany and the U.S. You won't find many history books with a point of view that so clearly draws parallels between two centuries ago and today. This book was as thrilling as the time it evoked.
It's a toss-up. With the book I can better revel in the great prose about Manchester or libraries, while I also enjoyed hearing the author speaking her own words in her own voice about her own life.
Memoirs by other writers, coming out stories, growing up in a fundamentalist family stories, self-help stories about overcoming the past.
Especially loved Chapter 2 about the background of Manchester.
Realizations toward the end which I don't want to spoil.
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