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Exemplifying American exceptionalism through free-market endeavors

Alan Wallace
| Saturday, May 30, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

American exceptionalism is usually thought of in political terms, but a nation's political climate can foster or hinder innovation. In her new book, “Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs” (Mercury Ink), Michelle Malkin celebrates the exceptionalism of inventive, entrepreneurial Americans.

The book's title plays off an infamous 2012 comment by President Obama: “If you've got a business — you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Malkin disagrees with him so strongly on that point that she's essentially written a book-length refutation of that presidential quote.

Malkin covers the stories of people whose achievements she believes should be better known and more appreciated. Among them are the founder of the Maglite flashlight firm, air-conditioning pioneers Willis Carrier and Irvine Lyle, and the bridge-building Roebling family. She also explores the background behind such taken-for-granted innovations as toilet paper, bottle caps and glass containers for food, beverages and medicine.

The book's scope extends from Colonial times through the Industrial Revolution to today and beyond, as represented by the next generation of U.S. innovators. And the political framework that enables such enterprise isn't overlooked, from the Constitution, which gives Congress the power “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” by granting “Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries” for limited periods, to the resulting patent system that both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain — each a patent holder — championed.

Malkin writes that her “tinkerpreneurs” share appreciation for America's pro-innovation climate fostered by that patent system, displaying “a deep and abiding respect for intellectual property, fair play, and the rule of law.” Other characteristics that they have in common include showing mechanical aptitude early in life, pragmatism, dedication, creativity, perseverance and integrity.

Also noted are connections among the figures profiled in the book that came about “organically, not from top-down regulations or government policy.” And while profit motivated their free-enterprise efforts, Malkin says, their success enriched not just themselves and their companies, but made life better for society as a whole.

BORDERING ON RUIN

“Adios, America: The Left's Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole” by Ann Coulter (Regnery, available Monday) — This New York Times best selling author's biting wit and uncompromising viewpoint are once again on display in this book. It portrays illegal immigration as an existential crisis for America, one that various elites — Democrats who stand to gain millions of new Democrat voters, Republicans who profit from cheap labor, mainstream media outlets — do their best to portray otherwise. Coulter contends that illegal aliens are key to numerous issues including impoverished children, sexual violence, overcrowded prisons, various forms of entitlement fraud and black Americans' social woes, but too many media outlets rarely, if ever, report on those issues in the context of immigration. And because what she contends that the truth about illegal immigration is deliberately suppressed, Coulter maintains that Americans don't realize just how great a threat illegal immigration poses.

WARTIME TO PEACETIME, 70 YEARS AGO

“Potsdam: The End of World War II and the Remaking of Europe” by Michael Neiberg (Basic Books) — This account of the Allied leaders' July-August 1945 conference on terms for World War II's end in Europe focuses on how they saw the situation and were influenced by 1918's Treaty of Versailles and 1938's Munich Agreement, and how their strategies and understandings of history limited their options. The author, who teaches history at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, also shows how unexpected events affected Potsdam. FDR's death three months earlier put Harry Truman — inexperienced in foreign affairs and kept in the dark regarding wartime policy as vice president — in the Oval Office. But two days into the conference, America achieved the first successful atom-bomb test, strengthening his hand. And an electoral upset meant that Clement Attlee replaced Winston Churchill — mid-conference — as both Great Britain's prime minister and principal Potsdam representative.

IN THE PIPELINE

Forthcoming titles from both ends of the political spectrum:

Conservative

• “Strategic Failure: How President Obama's Drone Warfare, Defense Cuts, and Military Amateurism Have Imperiled America” by Mark Moyar (Threshold Editions, June 23)

• “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide” by Michael B. Oren (Random House, June 23)

• “The Double Life of Fidel Castro: The Hidden World of Cuba's Greatest Leader” by Juan Sanchez (Amberley Publishing, June 28)

• “A Less Perfect Union: The Case for States' Rights” by Adam Freedman (Broadside Books, June 30)

• “A Time for Truth: Reigniting the Promise of America” by Ted Cruz (Broadside Books, June 30)

Liberal

• “America's Growing Inequality: The Impact of Poverty and Race” edited by Chester Hartman, foreword by Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (Lexington Books, June 15)

• “We Do Not Fear Anarchy — We Invoke It: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement” by Robert Graham (AK Press, June 23)

• “Population Control: How Corporate Owners Are Killing Us” by Jim Marrs (William Morrow, June 23)

• “American Dionysia: Violence, Tragedy and Democratic Politics” by Steven Johnston (Cambridge University Press, June 30)

• “The Hillary Doctrine: Sex and American Foreign Policy” by Valerie M. Hudson and Patricia Leidl, foreword by Swanee Hunt (Columbia University Press, June 30)

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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