Why did I love this book?
My admiration for this book is demonstrated by the way in which I quite shamelessly ripped off its title for my own. It has been said that America is the only nation that began perfect and hoped to improve. The engine of that improvement, from the earliest days of the Republic, had been new technologies but by the middle of the pre-Civil War period some Americans began to realize that the “improvement” they had unleashed was beginning to erode the very “perfection” that they had hoped to enshrine in the nation’s foundation. Writers, artists, and creative intellectuals in general are society’s canaries in the mine shaft, and the great names of the American Renaissance—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Washington Irving, Herman Melville, George Innes, Charles Sheeler, and their colleagues—attempted to describe, understand, and perhaps heal the destructive effects of the machine. As Marx concludes, “what was a grim possibility for Melville became certainty for Mark Twain and Henry Adams; neither was able to imagine a satisfactory resolution of the conflict figured by the machine’s incursion into the garden.”