REVIEW: Atom Bomb to Santa Claus by Trevor Homer
A fascinating celebration of America’s greatest innovators and inventions.
Three cheers for the ingenious, inventive, United States of America!
From the kitchen to the office to outer space, America has been at the forefront of the advances of the human race for the last two centuries. It’s given birth to more new products, devices, medicines, leisure pursuits, sports, musical genres, and vehicles than any other country or people ancient or modern. More Nobel prize winners come from these shores than the next five countries combined.
Atom Bomb to Santa Claus celebrates the country’s pioneering drive by describing some of its greatest innovations and some of its greatest – and most surprising – inventors. It challenges the imagination to know that the same country that gave the world the artificial heart and e-mail, also originated sliced bread and Chinese fortune cookies. Guaranteed to entertain and enlighten, Atom Bomb to Santa Claus is an amazing chronicle of some of America’s most important and imaginative creations.
Dear Mr. Homer,
As so often happens, my magpie eye was caught by this cover. Whoa, that’s interesting, wonder what it’s about. Atom bombs and Santa Claus? Okay I had to request it.
Though I question a few dates, statements (um, the Soviets tried to travel outside the orbit of the Earth) and entries, the book is a fascinating compilation of fun tidbits. What has America done? Well, quite a bit actually and a lot of it is good. Yes, we’re far from perfect (figured I’d better throw that in before someone else did) but our drive and initiative has lead to lifesaving devices and medicines and labor saving inventions. Christmas tree lights and safety razors? We did it. Safety pins and dental floss? The coat hanger, disposable diapers, Scotchgard and sewing machines? Yes, to all as well as to windshield wipers, Teddy Bears and the microwave oven.
Chocolate chip cookies, M&Ms, flash frozen food and tea bags. Canned beer, Happy Hour and the breathalyzer. Post-It notes and liquid paper (which is probably not used that much anymore but was a lifesaver for me back in college before computers when I had to type my term papers. Yes, I know I just dated myself). Bloomers, jeans and nylon stockings. Zippers, the bar code and the computer mouse. Lasers, GPS and LED lights. Photocopiers and elevators. Teflon, telegraphs and telegrams. Search engines and crash test dummies.
Americans haven’t just invented things, we’ve done a lot of things first. The Apollo 8 crew were the first humans to leave Earth orbit, the first to photograph an Earthrise, and the first humans to see the dark side of the Moon. They helped pave the way for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.
If you play Frisbee, Monopoly, Scrabble, basketball, or use a credit card, have transferred money via wire or used an ATM it’s because of us. Skateboards, skeet shooting and speed dating are all American inventions.
Microsoft, Intel, Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Google, Yahoo, Amazon, DuPont, GE, Proctor and Gamble and Tupperware – it’s hard not to be impacted almost every day by one of these. Jazz, Rock and Roll, Punk rock and (why wasn’t this mentioned here?) Rap music, the Charleston, Lindy Hop, jitterbug, jive, twist and Juke boxes started here. From Louis Armstrong, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Elvis, Irving Berlin, Maria Callas, and Johnny Cash to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, American musicians have written or performed music that has moved the world. Rhapsody in Blue, Moonlight Serenade, Born to Run, Surfin’ USA, R-E-S-P-E-C-T or the Fanfare for the Common Man are instantly recognizable.
Longfellow, Poe, Whitman, Faulkner, Dickinson, Allcott, Twain, Hammett, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Morrison and Ginsberg all wrote of their times and experiences making them come alive. Americans aren’t all greedy cusses just out for a buck – the following people invented things but deliberately didn’t patent them for the greater good: Benjamin Franklin invented the Franklin stove, George Washington gave us the seeding plow and Jonas Salk the polio vaccine. Bone marrow transplants, angioplasty, the heart-lung machine, rubber surgical gloves, defibrillators and (just to see if you’re paying attention) car bucket seats. Yeah Steve McQueen invented those.
The law and order chapter isn’t quite so “isn’t-this-great.” Yay for the US Marshalls but not for lethal injection or the electric chair. We could have done without the Chinese Tongs and Mafia too. I wish the weapons of war (revolver, Gatling gun, and submarine among others) we’ve invented or perfected hadn’t been necessary either.
We’re not perfect. We’re not right or justified in a lot of what we’ve done and do. We have lots of room for improvement. But by gum, we’ve done some good things, some amazing things and some fun things – like Thomas Nast’s vision of Santa Claus. B
The United States of America is a long way from being a Utopia but it remains unmatched in the sum of its benefits, and it has given the world a clear vision of how much can be achieved by the human spirit when it is set free to roam and do the best it can.