100 great things about America

July 1, 2011, 1:00 PM UTC

Sometimes it’s easy to overlook our country’s glory. For the second year running, we present 100 outstanding things about the U.S.A.

By Andy Serwer, managing editor

FORTUNE — Though our affection for America is a year-round phenomenon, summer seems to make the heart and mind grow even fonder. Holidays contribute to this: Memorial Day ushers in the season, followed soon after by our Uncle Sam’s favorite, July Fourth. Getting out into the great outdoors also kindles nation-love, as only a visit to national parks like Yellowstone or the Great Smoky Mountains can do. So, too, does the food of summer: grilled hot dogs and hamburgers, corn on the cob, and blueberry pie on a brimming picnic table. So we think it only fitting to present to you our second annual list of 100 Great Things About America as the summer season officially kicks off.

The list reflects our sensibility here at Fortune. Yes, it’s heavy on business (see Warren Buffett, No. 30, and even Exxon Mobil (XOM), at No. 88), but it also includes NASCAR, No. 51, as well as Carlos Santana and Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon, sitting next to each other at 19 and 20. We have a soft spot for fast cars, virtuoso guitar players, and a nip of fine bourbon, among other indulgences, but many of these manifestations of Americana happen to be shining commercial success stories too. (Did you know that Santana recently opened a chain of Mexican restaurants named Maria Maria and has his own line of women’s shoes?)

Why only 100 great things, you might ask? Of course there are many more than that, which is why we decided that this year’s list wouldn’t include any from last year’s tally. That’s why you won’t see Mount Rushmore (last year’s No 4). We’re also not including any deceased persons, so, much as we love them, no Abe Lincoln, M.L.K., or Joe DiMaggio (or maybe Ted Williams for Red Sox Nation). Actually, I think we should do the list for eight more years so we end up with a mega-list of 1,000 Great Things About America. I don’t imagine we’ll have any problem finding that many, do you?

This exercise may seem to fly right in the teeth of the national zeitgeist, as there’s more concern than celebration about America right now. All the more reason for doing it, I say. Yes, we face unprecedented challenges, but focusing solely on those vexing issues is not only misdirected but actually dangerous. And the optimists’ case isn’t just pie in the sky. In his new book, The Next American Economy: Blueprint for a Real Recovery, author William J. Holstein shows that made in america is still very much alive. He points out that many U.S. companies, like Caterpillar (CAT) (No. 13) and Boeing (BA) (its 747 is No. 29), have done a remarkable job navigating through, and succeeding in, the new global economy. He cites cities like San Diego for genomics, Pittsburgh for robotics, and Cleveland for electronics as hubs of world-class innovation. And he points out that higher wages mean China no longer offers a wide cost advantage for manufacturers.

To be sure, Holstein writes, we need a better model for cooperation among business, academia, and government, but we are far from a gloom-and-doom starting point. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” We will surely be putting that to the test in the coming years. But for now, please take time to celebrate some of our greatness and think about how each of these entries contributes to the tangible and intangible success and well-being of America.

[The list: Intro | 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75 | 75-100 ]

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This article is from the July 4, 2011 issue of Fortune.

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