Invisible Giants: Fifty Americans Who Shaped the Nation but Missed the History Books

By Mark Carnes | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

This book consists of biographical essays on fifty “invisible giants” of the American past, each selected by a prominent person in contemporary America. The “invisible giants” were chosen from among the 18,000 historical figures contained in the American National Biography (ANB). Those who selected a subject explained their reasons in a brief introduction; in return, they received the satisfaction of rendering their “invisible giant” less so in consequence of being included in this book. We chose selectors whose interests were wide-ranging. Because their judgments were to be expressed in writing, we particularly sought accomplished writers. Although we made no systematic attempt to define “invisible giant, ” we explained that we were looking for the type of figure who, though often overlooked in history books, warranted special consideration.

The American National Biography, published by the American Council of Learned Societies and Oxford University Press, consists of twenty-five million words and twenty-five volumes, including a recent supplement. It begins, alphabetically, with an essay on Alexander Aarons, producer of Lady, Be Good!, and ends with one on Vladimir Zworykin, inventor of the picture tube and, in the minds of many, the “father of television. ” (Zworykin, no fan of his invention, contended that his greatest contribution to television was the “off” switch. ) In between are people, all dead, who have shaped the nation in countless ways. The ANB includes every prominent American most people can think of and many thousands most have never heard of. (A parlor game: find an American who died sometime ago, has some claim to national significance in any field of endeavor, and is not in the ANB. If you “win” [few do], please send me a short note or e-mail, and we shall consider including your person in the on-line version of the ANB in the next published supplement. )

-vii-

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