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The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream (original 2001; edition 2002)
The Fire of His Genius: Robert Fulton and the American Dream by Kirkpatrick Sale (2001)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 068486715X, Hardcover)Robert Fulton is often enshrined in American history texts as the inventor of the steamship. He did no such thing, as Kirkpatrick Sale is quick to point out, but that does not detract from his genuine accomplishments as an entrepreneur and technician.
Born in 1765 into a poor family on the Pennsylvania frontier, Fulton showed an early aptitude for working with machinery of all kinds, as well as an all-consuming drive to avoid his father's poverty. As a young man he contrived useful inventions at an astonishing rate, a marble-cutting saw here, a canal-digging engine there; he also cultivated friendships and connections with influential men on both sides of the Atlantic, and soon he was doing business with the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte (to whom he sold a prototype submarine, the Nautilus). Fulton's most lasting accomplishment, however, may have been to develop a steamboat fleet that dependably plied the waters in and around New York and eventually extended to rivers in the western interior, providing "a tool by which the dominant commercial interests could extend their reach and power, by which the reigning political forces could communicate and consolidate their influence, by which a restless people could penetrate new lands and develop new industries."
Sale, who has written several books that take modern technology to task, considers Fulton's legacy to be mixed: his steamship line helped enable the settlement of the frontier, but also the destruction of American Indian nations, and it "served to sanction and encourage the domination of technology itself in American society." His critique may not sway all readers, but his well-written life of Robert Fulton will be of interest to students of economic history, transportation history, and early America alike. --Gregory McNamee
(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:19 -0400)
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