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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 18, 2004
DREAMS OF IRON AND STEEL is a serving of History Lite. It is the written form of a BBC television series, subtitled "Seven Wonders of the Nineteenth Century". The subtitle is symptomatic of what is wrong with the book. In order to come up with seven wonders, Deborah Cadbury has stretched the nineteenth centruy to 1931 when Boulder Dam was begun. Her focus on one or two individuals who designed or constructed each of the wonders is probably dictated by the exigencies of television, rather than her adherence to the "great man" theory of history. Cadbury has the good taste, at least, to idolize the engineers and superintendent of the US intercontinental railroad instead of the crooked financiers who backed the project, as the late Stephen Ambrose did.
The British wonders are more interesting to an American reader because they are not so well known here. Cadbury's gaffs in setting the historical scene in Victorian Britain are less obvious to the reader in this country than the American ones. Example: "Nothern plans to abolish slavery had prompted seven southern states to break away and form the Confederate States of America." That statement wouldn't even pass muster in a high school essay on the causes of the Civil War.
Cadbury writes well, if a trifle overdramatically. That too may be traceable to the book's parentage. She appends a large "Bibliography and Sources" section at the end for readers seeking more substantial fare.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2004
A very well written book that covers what the author has chosen to be subtitled ?The Seven Wonders of the Industrial World.? The basis of this book is that, worldwide the knowledge and the production of iron and steel had reached the point where certain engineering visionaries dared to start considering the material?s properties to build on a grander scale than traditional wood and stone would allow. In little more than the span of a century these diverse engineering projects set a new world standard in their respective fields, and it became the basis for catapulting Western civilization into the modern era of undertaking grand projects. Deborah Cadbury, the author has a very nice writing style. The subject is easily understood, and there is no math. The author evidently did a large amount of research, she includes a bit of background material, but keeps the subject relevant to the central theme. The author does not delve into the engineering details of the problems, but generally strives to give the reader an overall view of the main problems encountered, usually a collection of engineering, financial and political obstacles.
As with most books explaining engineering techniques, a few more diagrams would have been helpful. One consistent pattern throughout many of the projects is that the Engineer/Visionary generally were obsessive control freaks when it came to their projects, and as their project came to life it manifested itself as exacting an equal toll on their health. The title is a little misleading, three of the projects, London Sewers, Bell rock Lighthouse, and the Hoover Dam deal mainly with stone or concrete. The subtitle would be better suited to be the title of this book. This reader highly recommends this enjoyable book
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Engineering can at times be less than interesting, yet it was not always so. During the middle of the 19th century, materials and automated power made new endeavors that were once far-fetched dreams, bright new possibilities. Deborah Cadbury skillfully holds the reader enthralled during the tale of each endeavor, laying out the politics, players, economics, and natural obstacles that confronted the dreamer engineers who sought to make the world more civilized and safe for their fellow human. The one aspect of each engineer that struck me above all, was simply the nearly masochistic work ethic each of them displayed in their attempts to accomplish their dream.
All but three of these engineering marvels are notable because of the large impact they had on civilization at large, not simply within the geographic area in which they were manifest.
The three exceptions are monuments to overcoming fantastic environmental challenges to save lives and safeguard property that serve as examples of excellence and durability to this day.
Another aspect of these marvels that presented itself unexpectedly, was the assistance from, or directly to the medical profession from at least three of these projects. It is actually somewhat frustrating to think how many lives could have been saved if only someone had listened to the medical professionals at an earlier point in these specific endeavors.
To summarize, the subject matter is relayed in an entertaining fashion, with due consideration to detailing the people and their motives within the scope of each project, yet without compromising a suitable measure of objectivity. There are more detailed books regarding each project, but I believe "Dreams of Iron and Steel" manages an admirable compromise between informative detail and skillful story telling to merit five stars for excellence and motivational inspiration to succeed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Of the seven wonders that Deborah Cadbury describes, five (The Great Eastern, Brooklyn Bridge, Bell Rock Lighthouse, London Sewers and the first Transcontinental Railroad were all built in the 1800s. But the Panama Canal (originally started by the French in the 1880s) wasn't finish until 1914 and the Hoover Dam in 1936.

Those complaints aside, each of the vignettes (or large blurbs) is in itself a fine story. She does a fine job in not only laying out the plans for each structure, but the history behind the need for the structure. Without belaying the point she discusses the dangers involved in the construction and the terrible tolls (over 20,000 in Panama from disease) that each structure took on the workers and owners.

Think of the book as an expanded 'Wikipedia' listing and you'll get an idea of what each section is like. Unlike an encyclopedia listing there are more personal opinions voiced, many of them are from interviews with people who worked on the construction of the 'wonders'. Good Read.

Zeb Kantrowitz
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on April 29, 2012
Remarkable depth and coverage on the types of human and personal sacrifices that people made from shipbuilding to railroad tracks to give the Western world the tremendous advantages it has enjoyed over the last 150 years.

Being a capitalist, this was an eye opener. Abraham Lincoln during Civil War penned the Railroad Act and Panama Canal was funded by the US Govt. Without the Govt vision to seed the market in these areas (plus Hoover Dam that it talks about) free markets would have never taken the chances needed to make US a major economic powerhouse.

Regardless of your view on Government policies, reading where we came from always gives a good perspective as you chart out where the country is going to go
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A wonderful and original account, with several small flaws. First the Hoover dam wasn?t completed until 1936, hardly making it fair to combine with the other feats. It would have been better to add the Suez canal or Moscow Metro in its place. Perhaps the building and designing of Brasilia would have been acceptable as well. Nevertheless this is a fun action packed account of many extraordinary accomplishments. An enjoyable read.
Seth J. Frantzman
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on January 29, 2015
This is an obscure book that a friend gave to me years ago. Almost any conversation that I enter where wonders of the modern world are discussed, I end up referencing the stories in the book. The Bell Rock Lighthouse, the London Sewers, and the Brooklyn Bridge are feats of mankind that show us today how important tenacity and courage are in conquering our difficulties. I've given away copies of this book that I've owned and am once again buying a replacement.
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on November 9, 2014
One of the best history books I have ever read, I've purchased a copy for everyone of my family and friends that is amazed by true human achievements.
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