Scientists and inventors, especially when their activities meld into the world of business, are not the usual subjects of works for young readers. Their popular appeal certainly ranks below that of military and folk heroes, music and media personalities, racial role models, astronauts, and distinguished presidents. The realms of science, engineering, and business are often staffed with largely anonymous individuals.
Nevertheless, Fanning has managed to make his subjects appealing for several reasons. First, he has selected men—there are no chapters on women—whose inventions and innovations are ubiquitous in the reader’s daily environment: steam power, petroleum and its derivatives, rubber tires, textile and paper products, radios, hardpaved roads, electrical energy, steel, air conditioners, radios, mechanized farm equipment, railroads, and telephones. Moreover, in the aggregate, these industrial products and their tens of thousands of by-products have become essentials of ordinary modern life, eliminating the need to belabor their significance. In addition, the innovations from which these industries sprang are relatively easy to explain to young readers and can be personalized by the activities of a few singular figures. Their researches, their efforts, and their risks are measurable in a manner that is not true of mid-to late twentieth century technical innovation.
Timeliness, acumen, and imagination play major roles in Fanning’s...
(The entire section is 569 words.)