Dreams of Iron and Steel: Seven Wonders of the Modern Age, from the Building of the London Sewers to the Panama Canal

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Dreams of Iron and Steel: Seven Wonders of the Modern Age, from the Building of the London Sewers to the Panama Canal [Paperback]

Deborah Cadbury
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 4, 2005

A world that had changed little from the Middle Ages was altered beyond recognition by the pioneering genius of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In Dreams of Iron and Steel, acclaimed historian Deborah Cadbury tells the heroic tale of the visionaries and ordinary workers who brought to life seven great wonders of the world that still have the power to awe and inspire us today. Fueled by Deborah Cadbury's characteristic scholarship and insight, this extraordinary chronicle re-creates the human odyssey of how our modern world was forged not only with rivets, grease, and steam but also with blood, sweat, and extreme imagination.

This P.S. edition features an extra 16 pages of insights into the book, including author interviews, recommended reading, and more.

Editorial Reviews


“A fascinating look at the technological triumphs of the in the nineteenth century.” (Booklist)

“Cadbury has a knack for providing interesting asides…an engaging and informative read.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

“Engrossing...DREAMS OF IRON AND STEEL celebrates the triumphs not just of engineering but of the questing human spirit.” (Stephen Fox, author of Transatlantic)

“An engaging and informative read.” (San Francisco Chronicle)

About the Author

Deborah Cadbury is the highly acclaimed author of several books, including Dreams of Iron and Steel, The Lost King of France, and Terrible Lizard. She has also won numerous international awards as a television producer for the BBC. She lives in London.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (January 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000716307X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007163076
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #931,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
If you haven't discovered Deborah Cadbury yet then she is one of the best and sharpest writers around. Her text is spare, her research impeccable, and her ability to draw out threads without resorting to tabloid sensationalism makes for satisfying reading. In this, her third book, Cadbury covers the seven wonders of the industrial world, putting the feats, their makers, and the events into context of the time and what they have meant in history.

This is the GREAT industrial revolution. The 7 wonders are The Great Eastern (the largest boat of its time a double hulled steel boat by Brunel), The Bell Rock Lighthouse, the Brooklyn Bridge, The London Sewers, The Transcontinental Railroad, The Panama Canal and the Hoover Dam.

What I love about Cadbury is that she has not only picked 7 extremely diverse items, (dams, lighthouses, sewers, railroads, bridges, canals, and boats) but she manages to put them into the context of the history of that particular engineering feat, but also in context to the events of their own time.

Her research takes her right into the buidling as well - for instance with the building of the Great Eastern she talks about the need for large numbers of young boys who were employed inside the boat, working in appalling hot and cramped conditions and juggling white hot rivets. There were dreadful accidents but a steady supply of labour meant that new workers were never a problem. The sheer volume of workers however never even made it into the day book though, they were never considered important enough.

She relates this sheer volume of workers back to all these structures. They were all built through the enormous supply of labour available.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Story Telling February 14, 2006
I bought this book because I thought the format and subject nature were most suitable for a long plane ride back to Japan: Seven Chapters on the engineering marvels of the modern world. Each different with its own challenges and particular history. The changing subject nature would keep me interested during the flight -- I was not dissapointed.

The storytelling here is first rate with a good introduction to the historical challenges and necessity of each project -- setting the story in its place as it were. Cadbury then spins anecdotes choosing what she wants and no doubt leaving out a lot of interesting and germane stuff... but it doesn't matter... the purpose of the book is to outline these great projects and, if one wants to, point one in the direction for more material related to such things as Brunel's "Great Eastern" or the Brooklyn Bridge, Hoover Dam or the Panama Canal.

The book has no pretensions to be a serious exposition of any of the projects. It is a good historical tale of each one of them with enough drama and description of the engineering difficulties and personalities to keep one's interest.

Serious Engineers may be expecting more... if so, you will need to look elsewhere. There are no sheer force equations, analysis of holding strength or geographic analysis of strata. But if there were I probably would not have bought this book.

It also fills a vital role in filling in some of our knowledge in these little known challenges that shaped our world so much... I hope I make as wise a choice of books for the next flight.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I Dream of Books Like This! December 28, 2008
Since I retired four years ago I have had the time to read a LOT of books, at least a lot for me.

One of my favorite books this summer was something a little out of my usual realm - the history of technology. Deborah Cadbury, in Dreams of Iron and Steel, provides a brief, readable and captivating synopsis of the construction of what she terms the "seven wonders of the modern age."

Having seen, during my lifetime, the first space flight, the first moon walk, the development of a jet that can cross the Atlantic in four hours and the invention of the wonders of the internet, I can sometimes get jaded when viewing the technical accomplishments of the nineteenth century. However, this book stimulates the awe that is appropriate when considering engineering projects such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Panama Canal, the Transcontinental (US) railroad, or the London sewer system.

Take, for example, the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. Located eleven miles offshore of Scotland, Bell Rock is a reef that is exposed for only 2 hours at each low tide (twice a day for you landlubbers). In 1807, Robert Stevenson won the commission to build a 100-foot-tall lighthouse that could withstand the 60' waves that regularly lashed the outcrop and sent 70 ships to the bottom of the sea in a single storm in 1799. Many of the ships went down because their captains refused to head into a safe port because of the dangers presented by Bell Rock.

In four years, Stevenson completed the construction of the granite lighthouse without the benefit of power tools, dynamite or steam powered ships. Working during the summer season only at low tides, crews rowed to the island from a mother ship, put in their shift, and rowed away as the rising tide covered the reef.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable Book on the Historical Accounts of Heavy Steel Construction...
As a person who worked as designer/engineer for 17 years in heavy steel fabricated equipment this book was very enjoyable to read. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Daniel Klaas
3.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic perspective on history, workaday style
The stories told here are eminently intriguing in their evocation of another era, an era when nothing mattered except bigger and more of everything. Read more
Published on September 4, 2012 by J. Ford
5.0 out of 5 stars Ms Cadbury is a wonderful writer
Ms Cadbury is a wonderful writer. Her prose is clean and clear. I had read the McCullough books on the Panama Canal and the
Brooklyn Bridge, and this gave me a basis to... Read more
Published on December 24, 2009 by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping! Very Hard to Put Down
In seven spellbinding chapters, this gifted author recounts the stories of seven of the most outstanding technological accomplishments of modern times (most of these behemoths were... Read more
Published on March 30, 2009 by G. Poirier
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative yet Captivating
Deborah Cadbury's Dreams of Iron and Steel is exceptionally well written, even for those with only a casual interest in its theme. Read more
Published on July 20, 2007 by Nicolas Reveles
5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful read that reminds us that history is about people, not...
I picked this book up on a whim, but I'm glad I did. The 'history' is presented in a light and easy-to-read way that makes this book fun. Read more
Published on May 14, 2007 by Allan Bedford
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