The Fire of His Genius by Kirkpatrick Sale
Robert Fulton and the American Dream

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None of the well-dressed crowd that gathered on the Hudson River side of Lower Manhattan on the hot afternoon of August 17, 1808, could have known the importance of the object they had come to see and, mostly, deride: Robert Fulton's new steamboat, the "North River, the boat that is frequently -- and wrongly -- remembered as the "Clermont. But, as Kirkpatrick Sale shows in this remarkable biography of Fulton, the "North River's successful four-day round-trip to Albany proved a technology that would transform nineteenth-century America, open up the interior to huge waves of settlers, create and sustain industrial and plantation economies in the nation's heartland, and destroy the remaining Indian civilizations and most of the wild lands on which they depended. "The North River's four-day trip introduced the machines and culture that marked the birth of the Industrial Revolution in America. "The Fire of His Genius tells the story of the extraordinarily driven and ambitious inventor who brought all this about, probing into the undoubted genius of his mind but, too, laying bare the darker side of the man -- and the darker side of the American dream that inspired him. It depicts one of America's earliest heroes both at the pinnacle of creativity and success, fame, and fortune and in the depths of solitude, recklessness, and contentiousness that preceded his early death (Fulton spent much of his life defending patents for everything from rope-making machinery to submarines to proto-torpedoes that he attempted to sell, in succession, to the French, the British, and the American navies). All this is set against a brilliant portrait of a dynamic historical period filled with charactersfrom Bonaparte to Jefferson, Cornelius Vanderbilt to Meriwether Lewis, Robert Livingston to Benjamin West, and events from the Lewis and Clark expedition to the War of 1812, the Louisiana Purchase to the bombing of Fort McHenry, the treasontrial of Aaron Burr to the "Great Removal" of American Indians. Here are the "taming" of America's rivers and the building of its great canals, the introduction to every body of water of Fulton's "large, noisy, showy, fast, brash, exciting, powerful, and audacious" machine that was the very embodiment of America. A biography that bears comparison to the best work of David McCullough, Dava Sobel, and Garry Wills, "The Fire of His Genius is a remarkable achievement: an extraordinarily clear window into an extraordinary time told with deftness, zest, and unflagging verve.

About Kirkpatrick Sale

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Kirkpatrick Sale is a contributing editor for The Nation and the author of nine previous books, including Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision, Conquest of Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Conquest, and Rebels Against the Future: The Luddites and Their War on the Industrial Revolution. He is the secretary of the E. F. Schumacher Society.
Published September 4, 2001 by Free Press. 256 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Science & Math, Science Fiction & Fantasy. Non-fiction

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Robert Fulton, Sale tells us, was far more than the man who set the steamship upon America’s waterways—the one thing for which he is known today, nearly 200 years after his early death.

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Publishers Weekly

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Fulton's various strategies to sell his torpedoes (which never worked)—first to the French to destroy the British Navy, then to the British to destroy the French and ultimately to the U.S.—combine Herculean gall, disingenuousness and unvarnished self-righteousness, providing an almost comedic eff...

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