They Made America by Harold Evans

“They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators” by Harold Evans is a captivating exploration into the lives and achievements of American innovators who have significantly impacted the course of history. Published in 2004, Evans dives deep into the biographies of some well-known innovators, as well as several unsung heroes, to showcase the transformative power of innovation.

The book profiles around 70 innovators, categorized into four distinct groups: “Revolutionaries,” “Barons,” “Company Men,” and “Subversives.” From Robert Fulton’s steamboat to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s Apple computer, Evans covers a vast array of innovations that have shaped the modern world.


  1. Detailed Profiles: Evans goes beyond mere surface-level biographies. He offers readers an in-depth look into the lives of these innovators, their motivations, challenges, and the broader impact of their inventions.
  2. Diversity of Innovators: Instead of focusing solely on the ‘big names,’ Evans brings attention to several lesser-known individuals who, in their own right, have had a profound impact on America and the world.
  3. Engaging Narration: The storytelling is compelling. Evans manages to bring history to life in an engaging and accessible manner, making the book appealing to both history buffs and casual readers.
  4. Rich Visuals: Accompanied by an illustrated edition, “They Made America” is visually rich, with photographs, maps, and drawings, enhancing the overall reading experience.


  1. Subjective Selection: While the book profiles a diverse set of innovators, some readers might feel that certain influential figures were overlooked in favor of others. The selection, as with any such compilation, is somewhat subjective.
  2. Brevity on Broader Impacts: While Evans delves deep into the lives of the innovators, there’s occasional brevity on the broader societal and economic implications of their innovations. Some innovations are so transformative that they might have warranted a more comprehensive exploration.
  3. Lack of Critical Analysis: At times, the book veers towards celebratory biographies without critically assessing the negative repercussions or controversies associated with some of the innovations or innovators.


“They Made America” is a commendable effort by Harold Evans to shine a spotlight on the driving forces behind America’s innovative spirit. By weaving detailed narratives, the book underscores the determination, ingenuity, and vision of these innovators. It serves as an inspiration and a testament to human will and creativity. However, readers should be mindful of its celebratory tone and consider pairing it with more critical analyses to get a comprehensive picture of the broader impacts of these innovations.