From Divided States, A ‘united’ Nation — Thanks To These Men

A longtime journalist with The Guardian, Simon Winchester is also the author of The Professor and the Madman.

Americans can be born in New Jersey, move to California, then wind up in Florida or the other way around all the while retaining regional accents and tastes, but still living in one nation. British author Simon Winchester explores how this national unity came about in his new book, The Men Who United The States: America’s Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible. In it, he depicts some of the men, the inventions and the enterprises from the transcontinental railroad to Morse code, from the Erie Canal to the Internet that helped make the United States whole. Winchester talks to NPR’s Scott Simon about the uniting influence of canals, roads and (our favorite) radio. Interview Highlights On how his perspective as an Englishman allows him to appreciate the United States’ unity I think our experience in Europe shows how very difficult it is for a polyglot peoples to be welded into one. … It is, to me, quite remarkable that a nation full of as many peoples and ethnic varieties and languages and religious affiliations can nonetheless call itself united. On the Chicago Sanitary District Canal, a unifying solution to a very messy problem Chicago is beguilingly close to the Mississippi River, so why not link the two? And there was an additional problem … all Chicago’s sewage and I don’t want to put people off their breakfasts here but all the sewage would sweep through central Chicago out into the lake. And of course, on a hot day, the effluent, it was a ghastly smell. And so there were numerous pleas from the citizens of Chicago, saying, “Let’s get the sewage out and send it to the West and to where people don’t care about it.” So, they did build first of all the Illinois and Michigan Canal … and then finally they took it upon themselves this engineer called Isham Randolph to build an almighty canal to serve the dual purpose of sending the sewage out to the West, but also to allow ocean-going ships. A longtime journalist with The Guardian, Simon Winchester is also the author of The Professor and the Madman.

Little drama for United States in Friday’s World Cup qualifier … but would you look at Mexico!

Its not going to be easy. Panama hasnt been what we all thought in the final round. But any team with real defensive commitment (check) and a determined, talented, bulldog of a goal scorer (check Blas Perez) has a chance. The Panamanians most definitely have a chance to navigate a draw, and then go hunting for the final, telling points in the finale in Central America against the United States. (Make that, injured and potentially less motivated United States.) (MORE: Why you might WANT Mexico at the World Cup) Panama will certainly dig in Friday at Estadio Azteca, looking to create through Perez on the counter and on restarts, and they will be awfully tough to beat. Veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa says it can be done, noting a freshness and a new vibe thanks to the recent managerial comeuppance. Here is his interview with FIFA.com . To get you further up to speed on the Mexican pinch should we coin something like the Mexican Mess? Or perhaps go with El Tri Trauma? Gee, this is rather fun, isnt it? here is Kyle McCarthys swell analysis on the roster choices ahead for the qualifiers Friday and then next week at Costa Rica. (MORE: The tantalizing scenario developing between U.S., Mexico) Remember, by the way, Mexico is probably targeting noting better than fourth place; the United States and Costa Rica have qualified, and Honduras has a much better pathway to the third and final automatic berth for Brazil out of CONCACAF. That leaves Mexico and Panama to fight it out for fourth and the playoff series with New Zealand in November. I still contend that the World Cup is better with Mexico in it.