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Thursday, June 14, 2012

John Ericsson and the Inventions of the War (The History of the Civil War Series) by Ann Brophy

John Ericsson (1803-1889)

Published in 1991 by Silver Burdett Press
118 pages of text. 8 pages of timelines, sources and an index at the end.

This book is part of a larger series (The History of the Civil War Series). It is very readable with a good balance of national history versus the biography of Swedish immigrant inventor John Ericsson, with the glaring exception I note below.

John Ericsson (1803-1889) was almost the stereotypical nutty  professor type inventor - he never properly patented many of his best inventions. Ericsson built a great number of inventions, but unlike Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison, he never really built any industries around them. He seemed to have trouble with personal relationships and was happiest when the was building in his laboratory.

On the deck of the U.S.S. Monitor

Among other things, Ericsson invented a screw propeller, a "caloric" engine and, most importantly, he was the designer of the famed U.S.S. Monitor, the first ironclad in the Union navy, participant in the Merrimack vs. Monitor battle at Hampton Roads, and the model for dozens of other monitor-style ships that patrolled the shores and rivers of the Confederacy for the duration of the war. The Monitor was notable for its ability to go in relatively shallow waters, its rotating turret and its iron body that made it virtually impervious to the cannon fire of enemy ships.

For all of its interesting detail about Ericsson's life, it has one gigantic error. On page 108, in a section describing other advances in naval technology during the Civil War, the topic of one of the world's first submarines, H.L. Hunley comes up. This book claims that the Hunley was a Union ship and that it sank a Confederate ship. In fact, it was a Confederate ship (it was not an official Confederate ship, it was still in the experimental stages) that sank a Union ship by attaching a bomb to its hull and then sank on its way back to shore. This is an unforgivable mistake since the Hunley is literally a world-famous ship, since it was the first submarine to successfully sink an enemy warship.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: John Ericsson and the Inventions of War (History of the Civil War Series)

Reviewed on June 14, 2012.

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