The Great 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.

This monumental book is the enthralling story of one of the greatest events in our nation's history, during the Age of Optimism -- a period when Americans were convinced in their hearts that all things were possible. In the years around 1870, when the project was first undertaken, the concept of building an unprecedented bridge to span the East River between the great cities of Manhattan and Brooklyn required a vision and determination comparable to that which went into the building of the great cathedrals. Throughout the fourteen years of its construction, the odds against the successful completion of the bridge seemed staggering. Bodies were crushed and broken, lives lost, political empires fell, and surges of public emotion constantly threatened the project. But this is not merely the saga of an engineering miracle; it is a sweeping narrative of the social climate of the time and of the heroes and rascals who had a hand in either constructing or exploiting the surpassing enterprise.

Customer Reviews:

  • Factual Errors in K. Burns review
    Don't mean to split hairs but previous latest review by Kerry Burns is factually incorrect. John Augustus Roebling was the father and Washington Roebling the son. Emily was the wife of John A. Roebling and one of the GREAT heroes of this magnificent book by the brilliant David McCullough. The Great Bridge is inspiring and uplifting to say the least. An epic triumph of design, engineering and construction genius. All the design,
    engineering and construction genius would be for naught were it not for the incredible dedication of the Roeblings and so many others. Completed in 1881 the bridge is a monument to all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it. The book is a classic and a must read in this day when the recently completed BIG DIG in Boston ( at a cost of $15
    billion ) is already an unmitigated DISASTER. The Great Bridge is a great read....more info
  • endlessly fascinating
    David McCullough is a wonderful story teller. We can put aside genre compartmentalization when discussing one of his works because the author's apparent interests are so diverse. How could one describe a book as manifest as The Great Bridge when seeking an idea of what it entails? Well, of course there is the idea of archetechtural accomplishments, of the ups and downs and rising and falling of brilliant physical design coming to terms with the hard realities of labor and human failings. There is mathematical wizardry and the oftimes rambling thoughts of creative genius versus the unglamorous sprawl of big city politics just after the civil war. Here we have the story of American immigrant accomplishment told in swift and startling detail in a multi-generational biography of the great family Roebling. It is a story of crime and deceit and deception and political manuevering and the ever-present threat of corruption's results and subsequent influence. The Great Bridge is the story of American history coming into modern times, of great cities growing greater and the distance between rich and poor, aristocrat and poor laborer and the many social issues that arise out of both hardship and greed.

    The Great Bridge is an indefinable book--a masterpiece of its kind and a book, for sheer adventure, thrills, terror, comedy, romance and heart-rending tragedy it is very hard to top. Wonderful popular history told by perhaps the best at this game....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
  • The Great Bridge
    When I first started this book, the first few chapters moved very slowly and I thought I might not read it. I hung in there and found the pace picked up. It was as much a book about the political history of the era as about the mechanics of building a bridge. It was a look at the evolution of science and workers rights. I read it before the September 11 attack on New York and I felt closer to the city by having read it. It too is a symbol of New York. I recommend the book highly....more info
  • Puts engineering basics into everyday language; fascinating
    Loving this book myself, I gave a copy of this book to my father, who is an engineer. He enjoyed it and said repeatedly that it is well researched and puts engineering into common language. "Are you sure this writer is not an engineer?" he kept asking. The book, sometimes excruciating in its detail, draws one in, although it's a bit slow at first. I appreciate this writer's obvious scholarship....more info
  • "Hey, I have this Bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell to you!!"
    The engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge was John A. Roebling. Unfortunately he never saw the results of his genius. It was his Son Washington Roebling along with his wife Emily who would bring the bridge to fruition over the East River. It was the major connect between Manhattan and the borough of Brooklyn, Long Island. It doesn't sound like much but this bridge developed the great metropolis of New York City into the center of the Western World in the late 19th Century and onto the 20th Century. The span took over 13 years to complete. The most difficult aspect of its building was the building of the foundation of the bridge. The underground work in the formation of the Caissons proved to be difficult and in many cases fatal to the workers. Eventually these problems were resolved and the bridge was completed under the auspices of the directions of Emily Roebling. Washington Roebling by this time was only the symbolic leader of this enormous project.
    David McCullough has written a masterpiece. I believe it to be one of the major historical works of the 20th Century. He wrote this book as he lived and breathed in Brooklyn, NY. Five Stars and as you well know, No Problem!!!!
    ...more info
  • Fantastic epic
    This book was the first I read authored by David McCullough. I had become a fan of McCullough's work on PBS' American Experience series and this book only increased my admiration for him. The book is a fascinating mixture of engineering, politics and drama. One of the strengths of the book is McCullough's meticulous detail. Not only does he explore the new engineering methods developed during construction of the bridge, but he also delivers great insight into the political game the builders of the bridge were forced to play in order to get the project off the ground. Imagine having to develop and test new ideas in bridge building and also navigate the often-times treacherous and confusing maze of 19th century New York politics! If you are a fan of American history and also like to read about the development of science and engineering then this is the book for you!...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

  • Detailed but dry story of engineering marvel
    After "Truman" and "Johnstown Flood", both superb works, I was naturally atrtacted to the bridge.

    Unlike these first two, the Brooklyn Bridge is first and foremost a technical triumph, hatched from the mind of a father and son. The father did not live to see the bridge built. The son, for a variety of reasons, suffered so much from the physical and mental demands of the job that he might qualify as the "mad" bridgebuilder in the minds of many. McCollough offers extensive detail of the people, the politics, and the history. The science and engineering is a lot harder to follow, unless you have the mathematical and analytical rigor to follow along. Perhaps some more charts and figures would have helped.

    This is a long, hard read. The bridge was a longer, harder act. At times I felt like I was going to take as long to read the book as it took to build the bridge....more info

  • The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
    fast delivery - excellent read...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

  • 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
  • The View from the Bridge
    The Great Bridge by David McCullough (Reviewed by Philip W. Henry, Rialto,CA)

    David McCullough's masterful history of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge should rank at the top of any "listmania" list of Classic History Writing. McCullough's bibliography runs from Theodore Roosevelt (Mornings on Horseback) to Harry Truman (Truman) to the Panama Canal (Path between the Seas) to the Brooklyn Bridge (The Great Bridge). He has a way of taking an unprepossessing subject, like a Bridge crossing the East River, or a canal crossing an isthsmus ?sp? and bringing it alive.

    Like a modern Colossus of Rhodes, the massive structure took shape for a dozen years from the laying ofthe first of millions of stones beginning in 1870___ to the Gala grand Opening on May 24,1883. Hundreds of workmen (mostly recent immigrants from Ireland, Ital y and impoverished Europe) toiled beneath the river in dangerous wooden Caissons which regularly caught fire, killing many men. Supervising all of this from his Apartment in Brooklyn was The Chief Engineer, Washington Roebling. Roebling, whose father John was the Inspiration behind the Great Bridge, oversaw every facet of its construction despite being virtually incapacitated by Nitrogen Narcosis ("The Bends") which he contracted from spending long hours beneath the East River.

    Roebling's wife basically directed the work, taking copious notes in longhand and firing off hundreds of letters to subcontractors, lawyers, and politicians. Intertwined in the Bridge Construction is the history of the City of New York: the bustling streets; "hell's kitchen' with its smorgasbord of humanity; the corrupt political hacks of Tammany Hall like Seth Low (after whom, ironically, was named the first Library of Columbia University, my Alma Mater) and the great drama of the City that never sleeps.

    Come to think of it, The Great Bridge is a sort of Metaphor for America: Great ambition; great Hubris. Great Book! A word about art and illustrations: they make the book, with line drawings from Harper's Weekly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated News. Imagine if CNN and the Internet had been around then).

    ...more info
  • So Much History
    Granted, I am a McCullough devotee. I read whatever he writes but enjoy his work to different degress I must admit. This is at the top of my list. The implication of the Brooklyn Bridge is felt on so many different stages and the author graphically brings the curtain up on all of them. Beginning with the suspension bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati to the Golden Gate, the Brooklyn Bridge is part of an amazing array of stories. Roebling and Straus ...the two least known American heroes in history. Both strange and quirky. Who could guess that the story of an American landmark could contain so much texture. And I love that McCullough gives Emily Roebling such credit. Read the book, walk the span and I predict it will remain deep in your psyche....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
  • want to buy the Brooklyn Bridge?
    sorry, you can't but you can buy the riveting history behind the building of this magnificent architectural structure written by one of the finest historical writers of our generation. First of all, I love David McCullough's writing, his historical detail and vivid descriptive writing makes you feel as you were there watching the building of this amazing structure right before your very own eyes. They said it couldn't be done, a suspension bridge spanning from Brooklyn to Manhattan was impossible but all agreed ultimately necessary to allow for the growth of these two great cities(this was before the 5 boroughs were incorporated into NYC). How could this become such a fascinating story of political intrigue, romance, undeterred faith and American can-do spirit. Washington Roebling designed and spurred the building of the bridge, his wife Emily refused to let his dream die when he became too sick to carry on and his son John followed through with his father's plans to allow people to cross the East River and unite. It is a riveting story with larger then life characters and obstacles to overcome. I used to walk over the Broolyn Bridge numerous times during my NYC days just to marvel at this still amazing structure and it's incredible views but you don't need to be that close to the bridge to appreciate it's wonderous history just read this book. ...more info
  • Worth the Time
    I read this book when it first came out and still remember much of it. This priceless description of the engineering and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and of how the Roeblings made it all happen is worth every moment of the time you will spend reading it. ...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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Fancinating Read
    I loved this book for many reasons. It had action, romance, history and science that even an amateur could follow. I've walked the Bridge many times and even stayed on Columbia Heights and never knew the history of the Bridge. I was amazed at all the famous and influential people who were mentioned in this book and how young they were when they were doing the amazing things that we all know them for. It really opened my eyes to a time period that fell somewhere between the Civil war and World WarI.

    ...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
  • Fun Read
    Recreating the culture and times here is a big part of McCullough's success in writing this great book. Earlier histories emphasized the Roeblings' interactions and obsessions, with great drama and effect. While McCollough plays that card here, too, the book places the reader into the times much more effectively. Yes, it's still about the father and son, but the people who contributed and benefitted play as great a role here.

    Very satisfying read - enjoy it....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
  • You'll have to make a pilgrimage when you close the book!
    David McCullough is a guarantee, and the Brooklyn Bridge is too. But did you know that the Roeblings are top grade, 100%, acme dudes as well? This is a fine story that would be nearly unbelievable as fiction, but which is as interesting as anything a person could make up, better for being true. I just loved the book!...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
  • Enjoyed the book but...
    I did enjoy this book and I loved learning about the inter-workings of New York/Brooklyn politics of that time period. I have to admit that I did skip some of the more mundane historical accounts but I'm sure some others were facinated by them. If you like McCulloch you will find it worth your while reading this wonderful history....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
  • A Typical Detailed and Insightful McCullough Account of the Greatest 19th Century Technical Achievement
    McCullough and Chernow are my two favorite history writers for there excellent prose style and insight into the important features of every story. Here McCullough denotes the numerous political and economical problems that Roebling encountered to get this bridge built. The political turmoil as to whether to charge a fee for its crosing and who was to receive that fee are evident potential castrophe's from the onset. Yet with the political jaugernaught of Tammany Hall bureaucrats the Bridge is not only built but made to exceed all specifications. Nitrous bends as each major pillar were sunk into the Hudson killed or maimned many workers but Roebling was able to find it source and with a gradual ascent to normal atmospheric pressure their development of the "Bends" was curtailed. The Brooklyn bridge was also the scene were while driving over it in 1985 I proposed to my wife. Fascinating reading by one of the finest American writers. ...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
  • 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.
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  • 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
  • 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.
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  • A surprise!
    I was a bit skeptical about a book centered on a bridge. The author masterfully puts it in its historical context with emphasis on the individuals (Roeblings) responsible for its successful building. The prose is excellent and it flows well. I would have appreciated more information from the perspective of the men who received orders from Emily and who actually built it i.e.the assistant engineers and the army of work men. McCullough concentrated on the personalities and events. As a consequence, he did not spend as much time sketching the structural implications of the design and how it differed from contemporary bridges. As a first stop, I think this is a great book to start....more info
  • where are folks like the Roeblings when we need them?
    My grandfather spent his whole life in Brooklyn and he loved the place. His apartment walls were lined with etchings of the city's buildings and landmarks by the now largely forgotten artist Joseph Pennell. Several times he took us to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which we often drove over when we went to visit them from New Jersey. So I, like David McCullough, and Ken Burns who made a nice film about it, and many New Yorkers, have always loved the Bridge. In a city which long ago came to be dominated by modernistic skyscrapers, the Bridge is such an obvious throwback, with its stonework, web of steel cables, and gothic arches, it just looks like it has a tale to tell.

    In this outstanding book, McCullough tells that tale--of how the bridge came to be built (from 1869 to 1883) and of the extraordinary difficulties, both man-made and natural, that had to be overcome. The story starts with the post-Civil War social milieu that gave rise to the project and the recognition on the part of the powers that be in Brooklyn that they had to be physically joined to Manhattan to keep pace in the emerging industrial world. The design for the project and the initial phases of building are largely the product of one unusual man, John Rebelling. In particular, the structure, much longer than any prior suspension bridge and required to bear significantly greater weight, was made possible by the steel cabling which Roebling himself had perfected. By contrast, the greatest challenges he faced mostly stemmed from corruption; recall that this was Tammany Hall era New York.

    John Roebling was ably assisted by his son Washington, who took over the project when his father died, as a result of a poorly treated injury (the elder Roebling believed in hydrotherapy among his many odd ideas) sustained during construction of the bridge. Washington was also physically debilitated by his bridge work, one of the many victims of the greatest challenge that he faced : caisson sickness.

    If you remember the grade school experiment where you put a tissue in the bottom of a cup, then press the cup (mouth down) to the bottom of a sink full of water, and when you lift out the cup the tissue is still dry, you'll understand the basic concept of the pneumatic caisson. Huge wooden structures were built and pressed down to the bottom of the East River, air pressure keeping the water from flowing in. Men worked inside of these caissons, digging out river bottom to get down to bedrock, upon which they intended to moor the arches. However, when bedrock on one side of the river proved much deeper than predicted they were forced to keep going lower and lower and tremendous difficulty began occurring with men sickening and even dying, from what we now know to be the bends.

    Washington Roebling was himself struck down by this condition. He went for years without ever even visiting the Bridge, though he could see it from his apartment window. But the Roebling family had yet another remarkable builder ready to take over, in this case, his wife.

    Between these three formidable characters, and a host of other interesting folks who pop up in the narrative, the bold and enduring design of the Bridge, and the obstacles that had to be tackled, McCullough has all the materials for a thrilling story and he does not disappoint. If the Brooklyn Bridge was a part of your childhood too, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Even if you don't care a wit about it, you'll marvel at the Roeblings' accomplishment. And if you live near Boston and you've grown distraught watching the disastrous Big Dig, you'll wonder where folks like the Roeblings are when we need them.

    GRADE : A+...more info

  • What a great story!
    As a civil engineer, I love reading about engineering masterpieces, and David McCullough does a great job writing about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. The engineering details were fascinating, but the political background and doings, and the life of the chief engineer, Washington Roebling, all come together to make an incredible story.

    Washington Roebling and his father John, were two remarkable people, and McCullough brings them to life with his writing. They experienced both triumph and tragedy in the building of the bridge, with John dying from a freak accident just as construction began, and Washington suffering the bends in the caissons of the bridge. Washington's wife Emily is also finely drawn and shown to be indispensable in the building of the bridge.

    At times, the political dramas that played around the planning and construction of the bridge in Brooklyn and New York interrupted the flow a bit, but there were so many political factors involved, including scandals and back-room dealings, that politics could hardly be ignored. As with many stories, there were plenty of villains as well as heroes.

    But the building of the bridge was what I was most interested in, and the author did a wonderful job of describing the various steps in the construction, keeping it simple enough that a layman could follow it. Some actual photographs and drawings of the construction add hugely to the enjoyment of the book.

    Highly recommended reading about a monument to engineering and a can-do spirit! ...more info
  • Fabulous for both adults and teenagers
    David McCullough is one of the best authors in America and this effort is a fabulous departure from his presidential works and is worthy of anyone's time and energy to learn of those, like all Americans, climbed out of obscurity to create a magnificent work to benefit all mankind.

    The quality of the work is exemplar like all of McCullough's books. My wife, I, and all my older children have experienced this work and we all favor it as one of our favorites and the story of the builders has left us more appreciative of our ancestors and inspired to equal their efforts. We give this work and all of McCullough's works our highest recommendations.
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  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • the great bridge
    Very easy to read. You feel as if you are having a personnel discussion with David McCullough....more info


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