1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...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...
Published on Jun 6 2004 by Thomas Moody
3.0 out of 5 stars 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...
Published on Oct 19 2000 by Stephen C. Hackney
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "...and yet the bridge is beautiful...",
This review is from: Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Paperback)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.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Well Told Story,
This review is from: Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Paperback)In "The Great Bridge", David McCullough tells the tale of the building of one of the great landmarks of America. This book is thorough and well written, as we expect from David McCullough. McCullough examines the story from all angles. We read of the engineering challenges, the public support, the political scandals and the personalities involved in the building of the bridge. I am sure that the story has particular appeal for residents of Brooklyn and New York. New Jersey residents will have an interest in the oft cited chief engineer, Washington Roebling, of Trenton. For a resident of Kirkwood, Missouri, the mention of railroad engineer, James Kirkwood, and the frequent comparisons to James Eads of the Eads Bridge and Eads Boat Works of St. Louis, give this book a personal touch.
I debated whether I should rate this as a "3" or a "4" before ending with a "4". As I often say in my reviews, one way that I test a book is by whether it inspires me to read more about the subject. This one fails that test. I have no enhanced desire to read about New York or bridges. For my tastes, there was a bit too much about the engineering and the actual construction practices. The sections about the civic and political leadership were a bit too parochial to generate any further interest on my part. I finally concluded that the problem is in me, not the book. For a reader who loves New York or has a passion for civil engineering, this book would be great. If you fall into those categories, you will probably love this book. For a reader without those interests, David McCullough's story telling magic will hold your attention. For my interests, it is a good read, but not a topic to which I would assign a high priority.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Reading,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Hardcover)The book is an intriguing, well written true story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. I recommend it highly to anyone. Lots of details, stories and sketches of how this bridge was build and about the life and times in New York during this period. This books is well worth getting.
5.0 out of 5 stars My Bridge,
This review is from: Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Paperback)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.
1.0 out of 5 stars wonderful story,
This review is from: Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Paperback)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!
5.0 out of 5 stars McCullough: The Master Storyteller,
This review is from: The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Hardcover)McCullough is an amazing researcher and writer. His narrative style turns almost unknown historical events into "epic stories." And "The Great Bridge" is no exception. I came to know McCullough after "John Adams" was published, but have since decided to take the time to read all of his works. He never ceases to amaze me. "The Great Bridge" is a well-written, interesting, detailed history of the Broklyn Bridge, the Eight Wonder of the Modern World.
The characters come to life in this story, and the reader is transported into late nineteenth century New York City as an insider to watch the bridge rise from the caissons below the East River to the two gothic arches that dominated the skyline at their completion. From there, the reader can vividly visualize the wire and roadway stretch across the river until the bridge's completion. The book then ends with a spectacular grand opening of the Brooklyn Bridge. McCullough also focuses on the politics and people behind the bridge, and finishes his masterpiece by quoting an elderly woman from Long Island that remembers that the excitement in 1969, when two men walked on the moon, was nothing compared to the day the Brooklyn Bridge opened.
I recommend this book to anyone who appreciates good history. This book is not just for lovers of New York City and civil engineers. "The Great Bridge" is another McCullough masterpiece.
4.0 out of 5 stars Detailed,
This review is from: Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Paperback)I recently read this work via Books on Tape, in a 1990 recording by Grover Gardner. (17 CDs) I felt that he did a fine job of reading this text. At first glance I thought the book would be one about engineering, etc. While this work does include some of these data, the book is largely about the people and times surrounding the construction of this "8th" wonder of the world. McCullough does wonderfully to bring into focus the various problems which faced those 19th century personalities involved in this project. Good reading for anyone liking more insights into this interesting area of American history.
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic McCullough.,
This review is from: Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Paperback)McCullough again shows his mastery as a writer of history in this look at the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. His unusual literary gift for bringing the principal characters to life is very much in evidence here, though I think his real artform is his ability to illuminate them with the glow of more peripheral characters. In any case, this is an excellent book about the Bridge and about the man who built it.
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough read,
This review is from: The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Hardcover)Not just the building of the bridge but also the "behind-the-scene" machinations of the people overseeing the project. Both topics covered in plenty of detail. Would have liked to see some diagrams of the engineering. I had to pore over the writing describing air locks, pneumatic caissons, how the wire was strung etc. Think about how difficult it would be to describe (using words) the process of tieing one's shoes. But I slowed down, even to the extent of reading out loud, and I think I understood most of the engineering. Well worth the effort involved.
5.0 out of 5 stars I Never Thought This Bridge Would Be Built !!!,
This review is from: Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Paperback)As a native New Yorker and having walked over the Brooklyn Bridge many times, I still wasn't sure if Roebling would be able to do it ! Mr. McCullough takes you right to 19th century New York and makes you realize what a struggle the building of this landmark actually was. I appreciate my engineer buds more now than ever. This is a testament to the human spirit over adversity. An amazing book that chronicles all the forces that came together to build a bridge : political, financial, technical, and spiritual.
David McCullough at his story-telling best !
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Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough (Paperback - Jan 12 1983)
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