The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

 
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In the 19th century, the Brooklyn Bridge was viewed as the greatest engineering feat of mankind. The Roeblings--father and son--toiled for decades, fighting competitors, corrupt politicians, and the laws of nature to fabricate a bridge which, after 100 years, still provides one of the major avenues of access to one of the world's busiest cities--as compared to many bridges built at the same time which collapsed within decades or even years. It is refreshing to read such a magnificent story of real architecture and engineering in an era where these words refer to tiny bits and bytes that inspire awe only in their abstract consequences, and not in their tangible physical magnificence.

Celebrating the centennial of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, here is the classic account of one of the greatest engineering feats of all time.

Customer Reviews:

  • Great Bridge/ Great Book
    David McCullough has a way of taking history and writing about it in a way that put you back in time. If history books in school were written half as well I would have become a history major. Very informative and interesting. Can't wait to get another of his books,...more info
  • one of my favorite books of popular history
    McCullough has produced a compelling work of scholarship and, as we are used by now, an insightful study of dynamic (if eccentric) personalities who helped propel American history forward. The story of the Bridge is the story of the invention of 20th century New York. Is it too much to conclude that the Bridge was one of the most important technological accomplishments to America's emergence as world leader in the 20th century? Perhaps not. It's worth discussing. Either way, though, this is a book to relish....more info
  • Spectacular
    I know it's been over 35 years since this book has been written, but that fact is irrelevant insofar as this book is concerned. I found this book to be so engrossing. I felt like I was living during this time period while reading, and the bridge is just now being built. I was transfixed by both of the Roebling men and wish they were still alive.

    I am headed to New York to walk this bridge. To know what is below the water, and has been for over a hundred years, and to know so very many details about the building of this bridge and the men who built it, endears it completely to me.

    Not only am I headed to NYC for a bridge trip, but I'm buying all of the David McCullough books I do not already own. ...more info
  • A classic and extraordinary saga
    This is a sublime account of the Brooklyn Bridge told so skillfully it delivers a vital profile of an entire epoch. Celebrated as the "eighth wonder of the world" on opening in May 1883, the fourteen-year construction project surmounted remarkable challenges of technology, scale and complexity, as well as man-made burdens of incendiary journalism, political pandering, and licentious corruption.

    Heroes (John A. Roebling, Colonel Washington Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling) and villains (William Marcy Tweed, Abram Hewitt, J. Lloyd Haigh) are fully explored in a colorful account worthy of the best non-fiction. Contemporary rival projects like the St. Louis bridge by Captain James B. Eads allow appreciation of the Roeblings' accomplishment in an era when caisson disease (the `bends') was poorly understood and bridge collapses common (forty per year - one in four - in the 1870s).

    The Brooklyn Bridge remains a beloved symbol after 125 years of use. McCullough's account is an equally enduring classic....more info
  • "...and yet the bridge is beautiful..."
    In this day and age, what the name David McCullough means to part-time history buffs and amatuer historians (like myself) is excellence in writing, research and comprehensiveness. This reputation was undoudbtedly built based on classics like "The Great Bridge", written in 1972. Herein, the reader is exposed to spectactular writing and research that not only covers the planning and building of the Brooklyn Bridge, but indeed a history of the Gilded Age in New York city. With an enlightening style and insight that exceeds most other histories, McCullough defines "readable history" and in the process produces a classic that has and will continue to be the apex of literary history.

    And what a story it is! Following the Civil War, master bridge builder John Roebling decides that a great suspension bridge between Brooklyn and New York city (present day Manhattan) is not only needed, but would continue his reputation as bridge builder par-excellance. His son, Civil War General Washington Roebling (notable at Gettysburg and Petersburg) becomes Chief Engineer when his father tragically dies during the initial stages of construction on the bridge and proceeds to project an aura of moral integrity and spiritual "high-ground" that sets the tone for the subsequent 14 years that it took to complete this masterpiece. McCullough's account documents this and goes on to explain the initial planning and technical issues of such a massive project. The theory of suspension bridges and all the engineering technicalities is succinctly described by McCullough and this base understanding is what the rest of the story is based on (wires/cable hung form two large towers is the base format).

    The construction of the (2) towers is eloquently descibed at the sinking of the timber caissons (large "rooms" made of timber that the stone towers were to be built upon) and the subsequent details of working within them. Frustration abounds as the the Brooklyn side tower caisson goes slower than planned and McCullough describes the technical problems along with an amazingingly comprehensive discussion of the "mysterious maladay", ultimately known as the "bends". Worker-level stories surface here to give immediacy to the story and McCullough is masterful at describing them. The cable construction and subsequent controversey surrounding the contract and testing of the steel/iron would be boring to most readers, but McCullough makes this an intriguing part of the story.

    The political side of the bridge construction is not given short-shrift either as McCullough deftly descibes New York city Gilded era politics and specifically discloses the rise and fall of the "Boss Tweed Ring" and Tammany politics in general. This side of the bridge story, McCullough states, is as important to the final product as the engineering and construction...again, he makes this exceedingly readable while extolling it's importance to the story. Commitee upon commitee are formed to decide on both the technical and personal issues associated with project completion and here is where the controversy surrounding Washington Roebling's health (he was an unfortunate victim of the bends among other things) and mental capacity are manifested upon the completion...McCullough is again masterful at integrating this major poltitcal milestone with the story.

    The last few chapters are dedicated to describing completion and subsequent public reaction to the bridge and McCullough is superb at depicting late 19th century life in New York. The celebration on May 20th 1883 is a grand one and is placed in perspective in the last paragraph of the book:

    "In another time and in what would seem another world, on a day when two young men were walking on the moon, a very old woman on Long Island would tell reporters that the public excitement over the feat was not so much compared to what she had seen 'on the day they opened the Brooklyn Bridge' "

    Having walked and driven over the bridge many times, and having derived the name for my daughter from it, I can say that I have a somewhat personal stake and appeal in it. I also can say that I never gave a second thought about it's construction or the fascinating story that went into building it when I walked and drove it, until now. My compliments to David McCullough for giving us a marvelous story and book and giving those of us who've taken the bridge for granted a new perspective. I can't wait to go back and view it with this new knowledge of it's consruction and I'd wager that this is David McCullough's greatest gift...I give this work my highest recommendation....more info

  • wonderful story
    I've have spent the last 21 years in the constuction trade , as a carpenter working my way up to a superintendent.I have worked on every thing from your basic home , to high rises in San Francisco and L.A. This book (along with McCullough's book on the Panama Canal)have to be the most enjoyable and engrossing consturction books I have ever read. In fact David McCullough has renewed my flagging interest in my own trade, the story's are very colorful, it's not hard to feel as if you are there.A great read,don't pass it up!...more info
  • Gift for a friend
    I sent for this book for myself. While reading it I realized that a particular friend would really enjoy this book.
    I ordered it and he had it in his house in perfect condition and very quickly.
    The book is a real testament to the ingenuity and determination of men....more info
  • A Monumental Work
    "The Great Bridge" takes the reader back to a time when the tallest things in the New York City area were the church steeples. When the stone towers of the Brooklyn Bridge were erected they joined a relatively uncluttered skyline. It's hard to imagine such a time.

    In "The Great Bridge" Mr. McCullough takes a comprehensive look at what it took to get the iconic Brooklyn Bridge built back in the Gilded Age. The book also provides an interesting look at the culture of New York in the late 1860s and into the 1880s.

    More than anything "The Great Bridge" is a biography of the Roebling family members that designed and supervised the building of the bridge. Along the way the reader meets a chief engineer who is caught up in the spiritualism of the day and uses s¨¦ances to converse with his deceased wife. The reader meets the engineer who is charged with completing the bridge his father started and is only able to complete his mission because of the brilliance and tact of his wife. And the reader gets a great picture of Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall gang who see the bridge as a potential money machine.

    My only negative criticism of the book is that the level of engineering detail becomes tedious at times. If you want to read a good book that illustrates the Gilded Age and shows the power of dedication this is one of the best I have read.
    ...more info
  • Masterful History of Complex Engineering & New York Politics
    For those who wonder just how good written histories can be, David McCullough's "The Great Bridge" sets the bar incredibly high. He takes what could be an exceedingly dull tale of draftsmen and construction contracts and tells a spell-binding narrative of heroism, pioneering vision, and hard-ball politics. "The Great Bridge" is a book for the ages.

    McCullough reminds the reader that before the Space Race or the mania to build the world's fastest computer, Americans were fascinated by mammoth construction projects. A bridge was much more than a means to improve transportation -- it was a statement of man's ability to conquer obstacles through mastering scientific principles. Following the carnage and chaos of the Civil War, Americans craved the certainty of science and worshipped the men who could prove that science did, in fact, conquer all.

    John Roebling and his son, Civil War hero Washington, were two such men. "Thinking outside the box" is too limiting a cliche to apply to these two driven men. Pioneers in both construction and the cable-building fields, both men combined a spartan existence and a single-minded pursuit of their goals to push the Brooklyn Bridge forward despite overwhelming obstacles.

    "The Great Bridge" tells a tale that is often bitter despite the glorious result. John Roebling dies a horrible death before he sees the completion of the bridge. Many of the workers in the 'caissons,' which were the underwater (and therefore highly pressurized) work chambers that allowed the men to sink the foundations to the required depths, experienced the terrors of a new phenomenon called the "bends." Washington Roebling, perhaps due to too many hours spent personally supervising work in the caissons, was left a nervous wreck by the stress of overseeing construction and spent many years watching from his distant bedroom window, incapable of visiting the work site.

    Thrown against this devotion to duty is the greed of so many in the New York political establishment . . . including the notorious Boss Tweed. Without going over the top, McCullough depicts the stranglehold a few individuals could exercise over the dynamic New York society. The craven efforts to win contracts and slander the Roeblings are infuriating and make the Roeblings' accomplishment that much more noteworthy.

    Several passages are particularly moving. There's the guy who actually guesses what causes the bends but doesn't quite "get it," so nobody involved in the bridge gets the benefit of his speculations. There's Washington Roebling nervously taking side trips to see if he can withstand the stress of making bridge-related public appearances. Then there's the "little guy," leaving from a day's work in the caissons to drink away his meager day's salary. To say that these scenes capture the "human drama" involves is an understatement.

    Again, McCullough presents these stories alongside the complex engineering details of the bridge, which drives the story forward while informing the reader. While not a page-turner in the Dan Brown sense, "The Great Bridge" is nevertheless captivating because McCullough captures the essence of these real people so well. By the end, the reader feels like an honorary Roebling!

    Such a magnificent construction as the Brooklyn Bridge (it makes you smile when, decades after completion, the city commissions an engineering review of the bridge to determine how the bridge needs to be shored up and the conclusion is a sheepish, "needs new paint") demands a magnificent historical treatment. McCullough has given us just that.

    For devotees of Ken Burns' amazing "Civil War" PBS series, you can easily hear McCullough narrating this book with his bourbon-smooth tenor -- it adds something special.

    As an additional aside, reading this book will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the Meg Ryan romantic comedy "Kate and Leopold," which opens with an imagined scene where Washington Roebling presides over the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge, which he calls "the greatest erection on the planet!" (Fortunately, watching "Kate and Leopold" is not required to enjoy the book on its own merits.)

    A must for any student of American history....more info
  • Egypt It's Pyramids, Babylon It's Hanging Gardens, Brooklyn It's Bridge
    David McCullough ranks second to none in his tireless historical research, his ability to ferret facts and details, and his skill at weaving both together in a skein with fine writing. The sheer density of the material on the printed page is impressive. That it never palls is even more so.

    THE GREAT BRIDGE is McCullough's exhaustive history of the conception, creation and completion of the Brooklyn Bridge, a task that took the full intellectual capacities and the lives of two men, a father and son named Roebling, over a period of fourteen years.

    The Brooklyn Bridge was born in the shadow of the Civil War and grew slowly and organically as the nation did, during the Gilded Age. McCullough's ability to evoke the era of gaslight New York, with its mansions and slums, its immigrants and its robber barons, its ideals of human progress and its shoddy realities of machine politics, is nonpareil.

    Across the river is Brooklyn---sprawling, rapidly expanding Brooklyn, the third largest city in America at the time, more sedate and in its own way, more of a boomtown than New York, a city whose port handled more freight and whose lanes held more manufacturies than than the city on Manhattan Island. There were over a thousand ferry crossings per day between the two cities (even with the bridge the ferries ran until 1942), and although in retrospect it seems inevitable that the two cities should have merged (which they did by a small margin of votes in 1898, to the everlasting chagrin of some Brooklynites), while the bridge was building nobody entertained any such ideas.

    McCullough, not a civil engineer, wrestles with the technical aspects of bridge building fairly well, trying with reasonable success to put the technojargon of caissons, towers, load factors, wire gauge and the like, into plain English.

    THE GREAT BRIDGE is more than just a layman's manual on bridge-building, it is a social history of America at the end of the Nineteenth Century, an era when a feeling of confidence and progress motivated most Americans. Despite innumerable delays, political infighting, personality clashes, social upheaval, backlash from established quarters, charges of scandal, kickback, corruption, and fraud (at least one massive fraud is built into the fabric of the bridge, substandard steel wire rope, discovered too late to undo in full), nobody ever doubted that we could get it done. And so it was done. The bridge is now 125 years old.

    McCullough waxes absolutely lyrical at times about the bridge. And in truth, it inspires poetry. The greatest suspension bridge of its era is not only a practical expression of utility, it is also a work of art. Its two supporting towers are of granite, not steel, and are formed like double gothic archways. The web of supporting cables is a form of abstract art against the sky. The Great Bridge was created at the precise moment is history when form and function were wedded to each other.

    The matchmakers were the Roeblings, the father, John A. Roebling, a brilliant, severe, Germanic genius, a utopian thinker from whose mind the bridge could have sprung fully formed, like Athena from the head of Zeus. The elder Roebling was also the first fatality the bridge claimed, at which point the work was taken up by his son, Colonel Washington A. Roebling.

    Less severe than his father, Colonel Roebling was to remain the Chief Engineer for the next decade and a half, although a vile attack of the bends brought on by caisson work, and a mysterious unnamed "nervous prostration" kept him a virtual bedridden recluse for ten of those years, watching construction proceed through a telescope from his house in Brooklyn Heights.

    Roebling had every minute detail of the bridge and its construction fixed in his mind, but because of his physical agony, was reduced to dictating engineering instructions to his wife, Emily, such precise instructions that the army of Assistant Engineers completed the work to specification flawlessly in his total absence. It was widely thought at the time that Colonel Roebling was deranged or rendered an idiot in the parlance of the day (neither being the case), and that his wife was in fact directing the engineering work. Regardless of the facts of Roebling's illness, the bridge could not have been completed were it not for Emily Roebling, and McCullough never wavers in his admiration for Mrs. Roebling, who was clearly a brilliant intellect and dynamic personality in her own right.

    Reading THE GREAT BRIDGE places the reader in a different era, a time when all things were possible. Whether you cross the bridge every day going to and from Brooklyn and Manhattan, or whether you reside in darkest Indiana and have never seen the bridge with your own eyes, McCullough's work will not only show you what there is to see but make you view the bridge in an entirely new light.
    ...more info
  • McCullough at his best
    I hadn't read something by David McCullough in several years. I had forgotten what a truly gifted writer he is. "The Great Bridge" was McCullough's second major work of history (published in 1972) and has been ranked #48 on The Modern Library's list of the "100 Best Non-Fiction Books."

    Few authors of non-fiction can craft a narrative as exquisitely as McCullough. His chapters hop from detailed overviews of the history and technology of suspension bridge building in the mid-nineteenth century to biographical vignettes of the major characters to a review of political corruption and the Tweed Ring in New York City to the medical explanation of decompression sickness (i.e. "the bends") all without missing a beat and drawing the reader deeper into the story. One gets the sense that even if McCullough chose to write about the construction of a lonely stretch of West Texas highway he would somehow make it riveting.

    Of course, the Brooklyn Bridge was far from a trivial undertaking. It was the "Eighth Wonder of the World." It was the greatest suspension bridge in the world during a period when such structures had a frightening propensity to tumble out of the sky taking scores of people to their deaths.

    The most awe-inspiring thing about the bridge is that it was designed using nothing more than paper, pencils and the human mind. The chief engineers - the father-and-son duo of John and Washington Roebling - didn't have the benefit of CAD/CAM programs for bridge design or super computers to run sophisticated regressions to test the strength of the bridge under millions of combinations of weather and weight conditions. They did all of this themselves using longhand linear algebra and advanced calculus.

    Perhaps even more impressive than the mathematical acumen required for the task was the physical exertion it required on the part of the work crew. The two massive caissons on either shore of the East River were sunk upwards of 80 feet using nothing more than picks and shovels in the frightful environment of the nine-foot compressed air tomb on the river floor. And in the absence of medical knowledge on the effects of rapid decompression, a great share of the work crew, including Washington Roebling himself, suffered lifelong debilitation (and is several cases death) from "the bends."

    David McCullough is a national treasure. We are lucky to have such a talent to help us remember our past.
    ...more info
  • Great Bridge and a great read

    This is a fine history and many fine biographies all rolled together with an instruction manual
    for building suspension bridges. We learn of the many forces influencing the project, the technical
    problems, the commercial challenges, the political corruption and the problems caused by honest
    politicans, professional jealosies, the long shadow of the civil war, religious scandals, cultural
    fads, rapidly changing technology, the medical mystery of the bends, and on, and on.

    It is a well told tale. It is factual and well documented. The only quibble I can make is an
    occasional lapse into mind reading, "...Roebling must have felt..." Even these rare occasions are
    usually followed by quotes from letters, journals, or reports that make the supposition reasonable.

    I have not stopped strangers on the street to urge them to read this book, but it is tempting.

    I listened to it, instead of turning pages. That format works well except in one tiny detail that
    might not matter to most readers. There are many comparisons between budget and actual expenses,
    between physical quantities used on this bridge or that bridge, and so on. The numbers are reported
    as accurately as possible. That shows good scholarship, but makes it difficult to compare magnitudes.


    ...more info
  • One of My All-Time Favorites
    If you have read McCullough, this is as good as anything he's ever written. If not, this is a great place to start.

    The Great Bridge tells the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. As McCullough always does, he starts with a story about people, in this case, the Roebling's who designed and built the bridge. Into that story McCullough seamlessly weaves a portrait of life and politics in New York in the 1870s and 1880s and the engineering and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

    It is a completely readable story that leaves you with a real appreciation for what it was like to live at a time when everything seemed to be changing and it felt like man and technology could conquer all.

    A great read....more info
  • Great Bridge, Great Book
    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McCullough's telling of the story is superb and breathtaking. He lays out the historical setting and technical details of bridge-building in a manner that immediately captures your interest and doesn't let go. Seemingly every page is replete with fascinating facts and tidbits ranging from the secret construction of the first New York subway system to the incredible spectacle of the general public strolling on the unfinished bridge's catwalk high above the East River.

    At the heart of the story of course are the Roeblings, and McCullough's narrative of their history and accomplishments, starting with visionary builder John Sr. through son Washington who supervises the project after his father's death, is truly inspiring, heartfelt and tragic, given the heavy price that the bridge project exacted from them. This family truly earned its place among the giants of engineering and construction.

    I highly recommend this book for anyone remotely interested in bridge-building, 19th century U.S. history or for anybody who just enjoys a fantastic but true story....more info

  • A multi-faceted history lesson
    David McCullough is deservedly popular for history, and when I learned of this book I was intrigued by the Brooklyn Bridge as a subject. I have never seen the bridge, or if I did see it on my relatively few trips to New York I didn't recognize it as anything other than one of a number of old bridges. But I have heard it memorialized in song, and I never knew what "the deal" about it was. Maybe David McCullough could shed some light on that.

    And how! This turns out to be a biographical history, a construction history, a political history and a medical history. I learned a great deal, all woven together interestingly in this narrative.

    Bottom line for me: When I get to NYC next time, I'm not leaving without going across the bridge. If it's still possible to walk across it, that's what I'll do. And in the meantime I will have much more respect for bridges, especially suspension bridges....more info
  • Great Read
    The Great Bridge is a great read, revealing the details of the conception, planning and construction of the Bridge. Highly recommended....more info
  • Finally a McCullough Book I love
    Why is the most effective of all of McCullough's books? He leaves out all those boring and hard to follow quotes and TELLS the story that he is so effective at doing. Yes, it still has more facts than most people would desire, but this being my third book about The Bridge, I can honestly say, I could have saved a lot of time had I just read this one.

    McCullough's approach is a little different than most when telling this compelling story. He focuses on the people, backroom deals and the political climate of the times that were almost as difficult as the struggle and torture on those getting the Bridge built.

    Many facts about Brooklyn are revealed that I learned about from this book.

    This my fourth McCullough book, and in my opinion, by far his best and truly the only one I can recommend without criticism. I loved it....more info
  • Not my favorite McCullough book
    I love McCullough and consider Truman and Adams two of the best books I've ever read. A friend told me to read this book, claiming it was McCullough's best so I gave it a shot. It was a quick read, informative in spots... but, it gets bogged down in what I feel are some not some important details about the politics surrounding the bridge.

    I understand why McCullough talks at length about the investors and the corruption that went on surrounding the bridge, but at times I feel the book goes off in directions that takes away from the story of how the bridge was built.

    My only other complaint was the level of explanation on the engineering side. I don't have a background in construction and found myself completely lost at times when McCullough was describing the way the anchorage/cable systems work. I wish that McCullough would have enlisted an engineer or architect to draw several modern day schematics to assist his explanations because to be honest I was just lost at times.

    Overall though, the book was well researched and, as usual with McCullough, unbelievably well written. It just accelerates and keeps you interested.

    I would have trimmed some of the extra politic explanations out however and maybe given the reader an easier explanation of the engineering side of the bridge.

    ...more info
  • The Great Bridge - An outstanding protrayal of 19th Century genius
    I had many questions regarding the 19th Century technology used to construct the much admired, iconic Brooklyn Bridge. David McCullough most ably answers them all, along with a detailed portrayal of the genius father and son team, John and Washington Roebling. Along the way, unfolds an insightful treatment of rival engineers, crooks, and politicians. Self-educated James Eads built a triple steel arch bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis. William Marcy Tweed, the archetypal corrupt politician, along with confederates and challengers, were the movers and shakers of all public projects that took place in New York and Brooklyn.

    John Roebling, a university educated engineer from Germany, developed a successful wire rope manufacturing business which he applied to the design and construction of numerous suspension bridges, among which were impressive bridges at Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Niagara Falls. These successes led to the acceptance of his bid for the Brooklyn Bridge contract. Washington, who led construction projects and built bridges for the Union Army, was his father's second in command.

    In the early stages of mapping out the construction, John was injured in a freak accident which resulted in tetanus and his subsequent terrible death. At age thirty-two, Washington, with some misgivings by the bridge committee because of his youth, took over the project and quickly proved his capabilities by designing the two most massive caissons ever constructed. These were used for the foundations of the bridge's East River towers. Ironically, Washington was afflicted with caisson disease (now known as the bends) while fighting a fire in the Brooklyn caisson. This left him an invalid. Washington's most remarkable wife, Emily, quickly made herself knowledgeable in what needed to be done and became Washington's link to the on-site engineers as Washington watched the bridge's progress from a window in their home. At the time, there was speculation that the reclusive Washington was no longer rational and that Emily was the actual chief engineer.

    The project took 14-years as it overcame innumerable problems, both technical and political. The Great Bridge opened in 1883 with heretofore unprecedented celebration. Washington later recovered from the bends, living until 1926 as he acquired considerable wealth from the manufacture of wire rope.
    ...more info
  • Great History of The Bridge, New York, Brooklyn and America
    I received this book as a gift, and it turned out to be one of the greatest books I've read in a long time. The descriptions of the era and the people involved are fantastic and truly attach you to the bridge and it's Chief Engineer, Washington Roebling. The author also had a knack for making even the most complex aspects of engineering interesting.

    If you enjoy reading history, or the history of NYC or Brooklyn, you will really enjoy this book. The only book that I have read that can compare to "The Great Bridge" is Luc Sante's "Low-Life" for information and entertainment value. I was actually bummed when I was finished with it....more info

  • Another classic!
    McCullough sure knows how to write popular histories. Reading TGB is like watching the finest Ken Burns documentary or episode of The American Experience. Coincidence? Hmmmmm..... TGB is a feast for history buffs, technology buffs, and NYC buffs. As I am all of the above, I loved this book. A wonderful read....more info
  • Terrific book.
    I enjoy reading history. The author makes you feel as if one was present in Booklyn while the bridge was being built....more info
  • Thorough, Informative and a fascinating read
    McCullough's history of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge's subtitle "The Epic Story" is right on when describing the well researched history of the bridge. The story notes both the historic technology challenge the bridge represented in the early 1800's, as well as the human story of an entire family, the Roeblings' committed to its completion. Well worth the read!...more info
  • Wow, wow, and WOW!!
    Is there any doubt that Dave McCullough is the best history writer of our time?! Talk about making a subject that many would consider to be boring and dry VERY interesting and entertaining. I could not put this book down and I kept wanting more. The Author, as usual, makes his subject and the characters come to life. He simplifies things for his readers, yet he doesn't "dumb it down" or patronize. Just another fascinating book by a great author. I noticed one pinhead gave this book only one star!! I ask, what book was he/she reading?!...more info
  • Another gem from America's greatest historian
    Through his long line of books on some of America's greatest figures (Truman, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt) and historical events (Johnstown Flood, Panama Canal, Brooklyn Bridge), David McCollough has earned the title of America's greatest historian.

    As in his previous works, McCollough masterfully crafts his prose around one of the most historically significant and interesting events of 19th century America, the design and construction of the Brookly Bridge. Prior to reading this book, I must admit to an almost complete lack of appreciation for this feat. Suffice it to say that in the mid to late 19th century, construction of a suspension bridge on the scale of the Brooklyn Bridge was almost a leap of faith during a time when many if not most bridges failed soon after construction.

    This is largely a story about John A. Roebling and his son Washington Roebling, the former having initially designed and "sold" the bridge, the latter being left with the task of constructing the bridge following the gruesome death of his father from tetanus. Also a key player in the story is Washington Roebling's wife Emily, who many allege was actually in charge of the bridge project during the frequent periods of incapacity suffered by her husband.

    The background on both Roeblings was very interesting and key to an understanding of the personal dynamics involved in the politics and administration of the bridge project, and some of the most enlightening segments of the work deal with the politics of the era and region (this period spanning the reign of "Boss" Tweed over Tammany Hall).

    McCollough's best work, however, is taking the very complicated and cutting edge engineering principles of the time and explaining them through well crafted language and numerous sketches in such a way that most can be followed and understood (maybe not completely) by the reader. The novel concept of the caissons, by which the monstrous bridge piers were embedded into bedrock, and the resulting discovery of "the bends", was riveting reading.

    All in all, a typical McCollough tour de force. As in many of his previous works, most similar in style to Panama Canal, McCollough takes a historically significant event, explains why it was so significant, points out the extreme difficulties faced by the participants and puts a human face on the travails and suffering endured by the key players. As in Panama Canal, politics plays a key role in this story.

    If you're like me, most of the background to this story will be almost entirely new to you. Did you know that in 1880, Brooklyn was the third largest city in the United States (prior to its merger into New York City). I highly recommend this book, not just for its entertainment value, but for its great history lessons....more info
  • Mediocre Execution of a Compelling Subject
    If you don't mind mediocre writing or the absence of scholarship, you might consider reading McCullough's book on the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. McCullough appropriately recognized the inherently interesting nature of the Bridge's story, and in many places, he does an excellent job helping the reader visualize the complicated process of erecting this American monument.

    In the process, McCullough also essentially omits any attempt to maintain at least a minimum of scholarly decorum. A good example occurs early in the book: describing one of the directors of the Bridge Company, McCullough states "Smith was a Republican, a bank president, and a dear friend of Boss Tweed's, who had made Smith Police Commissioner." When I read that, I thought "Hmmm. I wonder what the authority for that rather bold statement is? I mean everyone understands that Tweed had power at Tammany Hall and ran much of the municipal show, but how does McCullough know that Smith specifically had been put in place by Tweed?" When I looked for a citation in McCullough's notes section I found nothing -- no citations or footnotes for ANY statement on that page (p. 128 of the paperback version) nor for page 129. How does a legitimate historian go for two pages describing the critical actions of Boss Tweed in connecting himself to the bridge without any citation to the historical record? Answer: he doesn't.

    At the end of the day, I just gave it three stars. I don't find the book a bad one, but I wouldn't recommend it either; it just seems to occupy that middle realm of good ideas poorly executed....more info

  • A classic mix of engineering, social and medical history.
    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!...more info
  • All You Wanted to Know and Then Some
    This book is fantastic. Now I know everything about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. The author goes into tremendous detail about the building of the great towers of the bridge and how the wires were strung across the East River. The building of the Brooklyn Bridge was truly an astounding accomplishment for its day and to think that the bridge still stands is a testament to the tremendous efforts of the men who made it happen. The Great Bridge makes the story come alive....more info
  • Good History and a Great Character Study
    McCullough's biographies and histories are among the best available, combining superb scholarship with easy reading, and this history of the Brooklyn Bridge is superb.

    While I was carrying this around, several people asked why I was reading it, and three immediate answers came to mind: First, because it's a great read! This is every bit as good as most novels, and more fun that most. Second, it's a wonderful study in character. When most of our news is filled with controversy and scandal, here are two men (father and son) who stood as exemplars of honesty, determination, courage and faithfulness. If you want someone to model your life after, I recommend either of these men - or Emily Roebling, Washington's wife and assistant. And third, because 130 years later, the Brooklyn Bridge remains one of America's great engineering feats, as well as a work of art.

    The father, John Roebling, was a true genius. Arriving from Germany as a young man, he founded a city (Saxonburg), perfected the concept of suspension bridges, and built one of the great companies of the 19th century. Then in a tragic accident during the preliminary surveys for the bridge, he was injured and died a horrible death of tetanus shortly afterward.

    His son, Washington, took over work on the bridge and devoted the next fourteen years of his life to seeing it through. The details of the construction, by themselves, make this an amazing read!

    This is one of those books that may not come up as a topic in most social situations, but it'll make you a better person and you'll like yourself for having read it. It's not a casual weekend read, but it's well worth the effort. Highly recommended. ...more info
  • THe Brooklin Bridge
    It is an excellent book. He went into great detail on it's construction in the first 2/3rds of the book all the way to the main support wires but then skipped over the rest of the work. But I liked it. Not his best, but excellent none the less. John Adams is his best book. ...more info
  • McCullough's other epic construction project
    Before David McCullough wrote his classic epic "Path Between the Seas" about the Panama Canal, he took on the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Today we tend to forget what a historic feat the building of the great bridge actually was. At the time of its construction, it was twice as large as the next largest suspension bridge in the world and it used plenty of never before tested construction methods. Hard to believe today, but its huge brick towers were at the time the tallest structures anywhere in New York. McCullough tells the story of the genius immigrant engineer John A. Roebling who designed the bridge and died horribly as the result of an accident during the planning phase. Roebling's son, Washington Roebling, took over his father's grandiose dream and suffered horrible physical torment from a little known ailment that would come to be officially known as "Cassion's Disease" after the huge cassions that Roebling sunk into the East River to support his bridge. Today we know the malady more popularly as "The Bends."

    McCullough is a first rate history author who knows how to convey his story with all the power of a great novel. Like Stephen Ambrose, he makes history come alive on the printed page. McCullough touches upon every event remotely connected to the bridge's construction, including the politics, backdealing and second guessing that the construction team faced every step of the way. "The Great Bridge" is a great work of history worthy of its subject....more info

  • Changes in Time
    David McCullough has written many books, most of them great or near great. The rewards for excellence he has received are both numerous and deserved. I first read The Great Bridge some thirty years ago and have read most of his subsequent volumes. I recently received a gift, the paper back edition of The Great Bridge and with much anticipation re read the story in its entirety.
    What struck me the most is that the enormous change over the past thirty some years...in morality, integrity and economics as well as the general life in the USA, has not affected the works of Mr. McCullough. His work then, and in each subsequent book, has shown his dedication to the subject at hand and the depth of his research into the matter has not wavered in the slightest. He becomes thoroughly immersed in the subject about which he writes and it seems as if he were living with the people that existed during the time frame of the story. Further, the reader (in this case)has the feeling of living and breathing during this post Civil War time in Brooklyn when the building of the bridge took place.
    This is one of my favorite books. From the first page to the last it reads as if it were fiction. One feels as if he were a participant in this unprecedented engineering feat, much as the citizens of Athens must have felt when building the Acropolis....more info
  • The Great Bridge is a Great Book
    The Great Bridge is highly interesting, excellently written, and easy to read story of the engineers, politicians, and workers who willingly sacrificed their health and well-being to design and construct the Brooklyn Bridge as an American Icon.

    At the time the bridge was built, the danger associated with those who worked inside the pressurized foundation caissons caused an unreconized, debilitating health hazard they called "bends" (because those who experienced the bends walked around bent over.)

    The effects of the bends on key people and the unscrupolist politicians of New York and Brooklyn have a strong influence on how the bridge evolves over the 14 years it took to build the bridge.

    In all respects, The Great Bridge, which opened in 1883, is a Great Book.
    ...more info
  • A Book on Bridge Building Interesting???? You Bet!!!
    It is the mark of a good writer to make mundane subjects interesting. While the grand vision and building of the Bridge was far from mundane, a lesser writer would have become bogged down in details and minutiae of the subject.

    Not so David McCullough. Perhaps I am a bit prejudiced, having once worked for CF&I, the successor to the Roebling Wire Mills, but I found this book to be substantive, yet comprehensive in detail.

    For those put off by the length, fear not! The book flows quickly and chronicles a fascinating chapter in the history of both New York City as well as wondrous engineering achievements....more info

  • The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
    I have read all of David McCullough's books since May of 2008. They are all true masterpieces. The Great Bridge, along with Truman, are stand outs - but none disappoint! I visited the Brooklyn Bridge after reading this book and actualy saw the expanse for the first time. Before it was just a bridge. After reading the book it became alive with the story of the great(and not so great)people of the times. McCullough is an artist as well as a writer....more info
  • Great Bridge, great book
    I drive over it every day to work and know that it's the most beautiful bridge in the world, but I had no idea of the labor, engineering innovation, political dealmaking, and family drama involved in building it until I read this terrific book. McCullough is at his best describing the Roeblings, the father and son engineering team who pioneered the use of steel cable in suspension bridges, and stewarded the Brooklyn Bridge through to completion. He also gives a vivid picture of the harrowing work done by the "sandhogs" who had to dig the underwater foundation of the bridge's towers. But McCullough, who knows and writes about American history as well as anyone alive, is surprisingly slightly less good when it comes to discussing the political back and forth between the Tweed ring and the New York state Republicans who originally sponsored the project. On the whole though, this is a great read. I highly recommend it....more info
  • Not as gripping as "The Path between the seas" but very good
    I was so impressed with "The path between the Seas" that I went up to Panama to take a look. I also took this book with me to read on the trip.

    I have to say it did not hold my attention in quite the same way but a fascinating read for all that and I intend to pursue further reading from McCullough....more info

  • Compelling
    This book is a somewhat long and slow in parts, but if you stick with it, it is very rewarding. Just about everything you would want to know about the bridge is here, written in sharp detail. My only complaint was that the focus of the story shifted a little too much to the political wranglings and corruption of the New York officials and then to the investigations of their wrongdoings. That got pretty dull. But, the rest of the book, with the thrilling account of the many complex problems of the actual construction, more than made up for it. This is the type of historical book that teaches you things that you never thought about and then you wonder why you never thought of them. ...more info
  • Entertaining history
    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....more info
  • An amazing engineering marvel that stands to this day
    David McCullough has done it again. Along with The Path Between the Seas, this is one of his best works. The book comes alive with a truly marvelous story about early engineering and (mostly) failed bridges and how one man, John Roebling, and his legacy did it right. A spectacular feat that will make you appreciate bridges and their builders. It is amazing to read how it was done especially considering the tools of the time. My next trip to New York will undoubtedly include a trip to the Brooklyn Bridge....more info
  • My Bridge
    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 Dormarunno
    Instructor, College of New Rochelle...more info

  • This book makes the Brooklyn Bridge all the more alive...
    I have been fascinated by the Brooklyn Bridge ever since my art history professor talked about it's importance back in my first art history survey class in college - and having now moved to Brooklyn I appreciate it all the more. In fact, it was in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge this past March of 2005 that I proposed to my wife - so the Brooklyn Bridge will always be an important memory for both of us.

    David McCullough brings the Bridge alive in incredible ways throughout his book, showing the fierce power struggles in so many different realms of the society that ultimatly built the Brooklyn Bridge. The book spans every topic about the bridge that anyone could possible want, from the complex engineering used to bring the cassions down to the bottom of the East River to Emily Roebling's dynamic personality and her role in the building of the bridge.

    There are so many things in this world that have truly fascinating histories, but sadly history is often made out to be boring. McCullough is to be commended for how interesting he makes every detail of the bridge, from the begining to the end of the book. Having read this book, I'll never see the bridge quite the same way - like the book cover says. ...more info

 

 
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