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  Nov. 16 event
Author: Innovators motivated by a need to serve society

For the great American innovators, money isn't everything.
Evans (Courtesy Condé Nast)

"They were mainly moved by something other than getting rich. They wanted to solve a problem," says BBC commentator, former London Sunday Times editor and British best-selling author Sir Harold Evans.

Evans is scheduled to speak at 6 p.m. Nov. 16 at Rackham Auditorium, addressing "An Exploration of Revolutionaries, Rebels, Newcomers, and Gamblers." The lecture follows the release of his newest book, "They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovation."

Inventors have been celebrated throughout American history, but Evans says no one has explored the histories of innovators during the past two centuries in this way. In his book, Evans delves into both the personal and the technical to see how one group influences the other while also setting these individuals in the context of their times.

"When I came to the states originally as a young reporter (in the 1950s) I was amazed at how far ahead of England the U.S. was," Evans says. He says that while the British had developed the jet engine, radar, hovercraft and other inventions, they were promoted and taken to market in America.

"The point is, why does America have this capacity for innovation which is distinct from invention?" Evans asks. He agrees with the notion that American innovators are better hustlers. "There is a genetic strain from immigrants—they're self-defining risk-takers and more inclined to think laterally."

Evans recites a litany of inventions coming to fruition in America and the innovators' countries of origin—the home mortgage, brainchild of a Russian immigrant; cheap electricity, dreamed up by an English immigrant; movies created by Jewish immigrants; and plastics, an innovation of an immigrant from Belgium.

The innovators span the centuries from John Fitch (1790s), inventor of the first steamboat, to U-M alumnus Larry Page and Sergey Brin (1990s), the duo who created the popular search engine Google.

Among the innovators profiled are the creators of popular banking, the brassiere, airplane, biotech medicine, retail franchise business, hip-hop culture and the computer operating system that made the personal computer a practical reality.

Evans says he often is asked why so many of innovators are relatively unknown, and their massive contributions to society virtually unrecognized. "It's because history is not properly taught in the schools," he says. "It has to happen in the schools and in the colleges."

Evans says it is not a given that America will continue to lead the world in innovations. He says China is graduating more engineering doctoral students proportionally than is the United States.

Evans may be best known for his bestselling book "The American Century," but his literary reputation extends far beyond this single work. The longtime editor of The Sunday Times of London (1967-81), Evans immigrated to the United States in 1982 and has been a leader in the publishing world ever since.

Currently the editor at large of The Week magazine, he has been editor-in-chief of the Atlantic Monthly Press, editorial director of U.S. News & World Report, and president and publisher of Random House. Now an American citizen, he was knighted in 2004 for his services to journalism; British journalists voted him the greatest all-time British newspaper editor.

Evans currently lives in New York City with his wife, Tina Brown, former editor of The New Yorker, and their two children.

The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Organizational Studies Program at (734) 764-6767.

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