It is hard for me to be objective about this book. First off, I am a great admirer of David McCullough's histories. Second, I have published two novels which are set in New York during the mid-19th Century. But what probably makes it hardest for me to be objective is that I have walked over that bridge for my own personal pleasure so many times over the decades that I consider it an old friend. It's my bridge.Having said all that, I can say that Mr. McCullough has written a history that is not only about a bridge and its builders, which are fascinating subjects in their own right, but it is also about what New Yorkers were thinking back then. This was still a horizontal world; the era of early skyscrapers was a few decades away. Because of this and the rapid growth in population after the Civil War, Manhattan was mostrously choked by block after block of four- and five-story tenements, warehouses and factories. The need for a reliable means to get to the vast open spaces of Brooklyn was urgent. Ironically, however, it wasn't the horizontal--the length of the bridge--which stunned the witnesses to the construction. Instead they marvelled at the height of the towers and the height of the roadway over the East River.Not as ironic, however, were the people who didn't marvel at the bridge's beauty and the strength of its construction. They were too busy licking their lips, wringing their hands and wondering how much of the bridge's budget would make its way into their wallets. The elements of corruption, then as now, always lurked near a great public work in New York. McCullough covers this tainted side just as carefully as he reports on the glory of the growth of the bridge. Heroes (the Roeblings) and villains (Tweed & Co.) abound, while New York's most beautiful and efficient structure comes to life.I've been as honest as possible. I recommend this book highly to anyone with an interest in engineering, New York history, or just a good story with great characters.Rocco DormarunnoInstructor, College of New Rochelle
McCullough: The Master Storyteller
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 16 years ago
McCullough is an amazing researcher and writer. His narrative style turns almost unknown historical events into "epic stories." And "The Great Bridge" is no exception. I came to know McCullough after "John Adams" was published, but have since decided to take the time to read all of his works. He never ceases to amaze me. "The Great Bridge" is a well-written, interesting, detailed history of the Broklyn Bridge, the Eight Wonder of the Modern World. The characters come to life in this story, and the reader is transported into late nineteenth century New York City as an insider to watch the bridge rise from the caissons below the East River to the two gothic arches that dominated the skyline at their completion. From there, the reader can vividly visualize the wire and roadway stretch across the river until the bridge's completion. The book then ends with a spectacular grand opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. McCullough also focuses on the politics and people behind the bridge, and finishes his masterpiece by quoting an elderly woman from Long Island that remembers that the excitement in 1969, when two men walked on the moon, was nothing compared to the day the Brooklyn Bridge opened.I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates good history. This book is not just for lovers of New York City and civil engineers. "The Great Bridge" is another McCullough masterpiece.
A classic mix of engineering, social and medical history.
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 18 years ago
It would be difficult to overpraise this splendid book - and indeed one might have thought it a unique achievement had McCullough not pulled off the trick equally well in "The path Between the Seas". The main theme may be the conception, design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, but into this are woven absorbing accounts of the social and political history of Gilded Age New York, the development of the technologies of underwater-foundations and of cable manufacture and spinning, the agonising quest to understand and treat the phenomenon of "the bends', the challenge of managing a project of a size unprecedented since classical times and, above all, the characters of a remarkable collection of men and women who were undauntedly resourceful in taking on the impossible. The story may be dominated by two engineers, the Roeblings, father and son, and by the latter's formidable wife, but a host of other fascinating personalities are brought to life, ranging from audaciously corrupt politicians, through noble and heroic army officers, down to individual technicians and workers. Mr.McCullough has a special gift for explaining technical complexities in simple and fascinating terms - this applies not only to the construction of the bridge and its foundations, but to the horrific and initially misunderstood challenge of what was termed "caisson sickness". The narrative never flags and the dangers and discomforts - indeed the sheer dreadfulness of working under pressure in the foundation caissons - are brought vividly to life. The writer excels at the moments of the highest drama - such as the almost catastrophic fire in one of the caissons, when the tension is almost unbearable, even when the final outcome is known to the reader a century and a quarter later. Every aspect of American life of the period seems to be covered somewhere in this book - the experience of immigration and assimilation, service in the most bloody campaigns of the Civil War, Spiritualism, the Beecher adultery scandal and the apogee, decline and fall of Tammany, all described with verve and elegance. The well-chosen illustrations complement the text admirably. In summary this is a book to treasure - to read once at the gallop, breathless to know what happened next, and then to read again at leisure - and again, and again. Wonderful!
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 19 years ago
While reading this I went to visit the Brooklyn Bridge again and I saw things I'd never noticed before. Isn't that why we read? A great book with lot's of fascinating details about the technical challenges and the determination of the Roeblings to see it through. I'll never cross another suspension bridge without thinking of this story. Highly recommended.
Masterful tribute to visionaries.
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 20 years ago
Although finished over a hundred years ago, Mr. McCullough reminds us not to take the Brooklyn Bridge for granted. By interweaving hundreds of key participants and placing the events in the context of their times, Mr. McCullough reveals how hard it was to build, but how a determined few persevered. In fact, with all of the political opposition and in-fighting, it's a miracle that it did get finished during the height of the "Gilded Age." Mr. McCullough accomplishes one of the historian's hardest tasks by explaining why something we take for granted should be important to us living a century later; in other words he puts the struggle for the bridge in its proper backdrop with all of the colorful charactors who either contributed to or tried to prevent the bridge's construction. I have never been to the Brooklyn Bridge, but after reading this book, I plan on seeing it soon. Although the Bridge's story is unique to its turbulent time, it does transcend that context by celebrating the will and genius of men and women who know they are right. The story is universal in its testimony to the importance of following your beliefs. Washington Roebling and his wife Emily stand as true heroes who are still making a difference. Mr. McCullough is one of our best historians, as this book so ably proves. Highly recommended.
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