Picks and Pans Review: Dream Reaper
by Craig Canine
Invention, often considered the province of wild-eyed eccentrics or musty R&D departments, is brought down to earth in Dream Reaper, a nonfiction account of two Midwesterners out to revolutionize modern agriculture. An unpretentious farmer and his salesman cousin are the heroes of Canine’s story, and their invention has the potential to change the world, much as the first combine harvester did a hundred years ago.
Living on junk food, country music and borrowed money, Mark Underwood and Ralph Lagergren struggled for ten years to build the Bi-Rotor combine, a machine that cuts, threshes and separates grain from chaff better than any on the market. Canine dramatically describes their hands-on work in machine shops as well as the frustrations they faced with corporations that are unwilling to spend the enormous sums needed to retool existing assembly lines. In spite of its immense promise, the Bi-Rotor combine has yet to be mass-produced, but the inventors continue to press for its acceptance.
Canine writes with style and flourish, juxtaposing the efforts of Underwood and Lagergren against a history of similar inventions. Dream Reaper is a riveting journey into America’s heartland, where necessity is the mother of invention—and hard work, conviction and sacrifice are its life-blood. (Knopf, $25)