Form and Content
In Captain John Ericsson: Father of the “Monitor,” Constance Buel Burnett blends biography and history, documenting both the career of Ericsson and the change from wooden to ironclad vessels of war, initiated by his Monitor. The book begins by describing Ericsson’s childhood as the son of a mining engineer in Sweden and moves chronologically, in nineteen chapters and an epilogue, through his youth, his years in the Swedish army, his work with steam engines and screw propellers in London, and his move to the United States in 1839. Although the book contains only one illustration, Burnett includes excerpts from letters and the reminiscences of friends to make Ericsson seem less a set of statistics, patents, and dates.
Burnett emphasizes the two arguments that continually frustrated Ericsson’s genius: that the old method was good enough and that no one wanted it changed. Ericsson’s phenomenal engineering and mapmaking abilities received approbation when directed into “appropriate” projects, such as helping to survey and lay out Sweden’s Göta Canal. When he moved to England and designed an efficient and successful steam-operated water pump, however, London officials rejected it: Fire fighters were jealous of the competition. Similar circumstances surrounded the development of Ericsson’s first screw-propelled boat. Despite an on-board demonstration of its speed, power, quietness, maneuverability, and defensibility,...
(The entire section is 461 words.)