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The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (1972)

by David McCullough

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2,749585,359 (4.27)77
History. Technology. Engineering. Nonfiction. HTML:The dramatic and enthralling story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the world's longest suspension bridge at the time, a tale of greed, corruption, and obstruction but also of optimism, heroism, and determination, told by master historian David McCullough.
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.
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    Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America by Henry Petroski (oregonobsessionz)
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    rakerman: Conquering Gotham tells the story of the PRR tunnels under the North River and (to a lesser extent) the LIRR tunnels under the East River. The Great Bridge tells the story of the bridge over the East River. Although the bridge is finished before the tunnels begin, they touch on similar industrial history and a similar period in New York's history. The Great Bridge goes into more detail about the underwater work (the Brooklyn Bridge caissons) than Conquering Gotham does.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
David McCullough is a writer with the rare ability to propel me through heavy tomes on subjects I know little about. I have never been to Brooklyn, but McCullough engaged me in the drama of the construction of the iconic bridge across the East River. The Great Bridge is his second book. It solidified his reputation as a writer and researcher after his impressive start writing about the Johnstown flood.
McCullough has often said that history is about people, in this case, John Roebling and his son Washington, the designer and chief engineer who got the bridge built. John Roebling had built suspension aqueducts and a railroad suspension bridge across the Niagara, and his family owned a company that produced high-quality wire. He was a hard-headed, meticulous man absolutely committed to his work. Just before construction on the Brooklyn project was about to begin, his toes were crushed at a ferryboat landing. He ignored the advice of his doctors and died from the resulting infection.
His son Washington was a civil engineer with a degree from a rigorous program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He built several bridges for the Union Army and commanded forces at the Battle of Gettysburg. When his father died in 1869, he took over the job of chief engineer and saw the bridge through to completion in 1883. Working in the underwater caissons building the foundations for the bridge’s towers, he suffered from the bends, a disease little understood at the time. He was invalided for the last several years of the project and saw the bridge only through a telescope at his home. He hired a doctor for the project who did groundbreaking work on decompression, but like his father, he ignored good medical advice. His wife, who shared his intelligence and character traits, acted for him when he was ill. She said, and he agreed, that she had more common sense than most engineers. Getting the bridge project through the corrupt, rough-and-tumble politics of Tweed-era New York was a major achievement for a man too ill to attend meetings and twist arms. ( )
  Tom-e | Nov 25, 2023 |
A fascinating story told with the usual attention to detail while always maintaining the story’s interest and narrative flow.
  MaureenTherese | Jan 22, 2023 |
I just finished reading The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of th Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough. I have long had this book on my list. I read one or two McCullough books a year and this one is among my favorites, along with John Adams and Truman. He manages to turn a subject I had only a passing interest in into a thrilling read. My decision to finally read the book came from a recent trip to a comedy club in Brooklyn, where one of my wife's cousins was performing.

Like most books by David McCullough this one focuses on the setting and era almost as much as in the title subject. John Roebling and his son Washington Roebling were the engineers who designed and guided the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. John Roebling, born in German in 1806 was from a wealthy family. The impetus for his family's departure for the U.S. was atypical; it was not persecution or poverty. Germany's atmosphere was stultifying. As philosopher Hegel stated, America was "a land of hope for all who wearied of the historic armory of old Europe." He taught that there in that "immeasurable space" a man's opportunities were boundless. Washington Roebling wrote in shortly after the start of WW I, long after the bridge was completed, "(it) has come to this pass, that for an extra German to live, he must kill somebody else to make room for him. We can all play at that game. It means perpetual war." See Favorite extracts from The Great Bridge by David McCullough.

Thus, the story sets the scene for far more than the construction of a bridge that ultimately cemented New York City and Brooklyn, itself the U.S.'s third largest city, as the core of New York City as amalgamated in 1898. The story of the bridge building itself is fascinating; the discovery of Caisson's Disease, better known as "bends", the story of municipal corruption and the efforts to avoid its tentacles, and numerous other fascinating sub-subjects. This is a book I highly recommend. ( )
  JBGUSA | Jan 2, 2023 |
This book was "OK" and I learned a lot about many things: politics, bridge building medicine and story telling. It did not grab me by the throat and make me want consume the book. It was obviously well researched and illuminated 19th century challenges. ( )
  buffalogr | Jan 26, 2022 |
Excellent book, about so much more than just the bridge, though it would have been just as enjoyable if it were merely about that massive marvel. Pretty amazing to think about the things that were accomplished in that time, much less the stories of the people who accomplished them. ( )
  royragsdale | Sep 22, 2021 |
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It so happens that the work which is likely to be our most durable monument, and to convey some knowledge of us to the most remote posterity, is a work of bare utility; not a shrine, not a fortress, not a palace, but a bridge.- Montgomery Schuyler in Harper's Weekly, May 24, 1883
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For my mother and father
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They met at his request on at least six different occasions, beginning in February 1869.
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History. Technology. Engineering. Nonfiction. HTML:The dramatic and enthralling story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the world's longest suspension bridge at the time, a tale of greed, corruption, and obstruction but also of optimism, heroism, and determination, told by master historian David McCullough.
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.

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