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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

on September 19, 2017
I found this history of an engineering marvel both fascinating and informative. Great minds came together to reshape one of America's foremost cities.
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on April 1, 2013
This is an excellent fact-based history of the Back Bay neighborhood and the inventions necessitated by the filling in of the Back Bay. Well-written, informative and a definite must-read!
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on November 11, 2010
I purchased this book just before a trip back to Boston and found the book to be an interesting read. Made my visit back to Boston and it's amazing history in the founding of our country even more enjoyable knowing the history of the building of the Boston Back Bay area.
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on October 21, 2011
On a recent trip to Boston, we did a lot of walking around. We noticed lots of monitoring wells (round metal lids) set into the sidewalks all over the Back Bay neighborhood. Usually, these installations are associated with water pollution or oil spill monitoring, etc., etc. But they seemed to be everywhere.....there must have been scores of them on our walk from Copley Square to Fenway Park. After wondering what might be lying underfoot, we happened to take a tour of Trinity Church, where they explained about the reason for the monitoring wells.

Boston's Back Bay was actually a bay, up until 1857. For a variety of reasons, the City decided to use landfill to create an entire new section of town. By 1900, the entire bay had been filled.

Nearly every building built in the area prior to 1950 is supported by wooden piles that need to be kept wet, otherwise they will dry out and rot. The monitoring wells provide a method to ensure that the ground water level doesn't get too low.

Trinity Church actually built an underground moat, enabling a rowboat to float around their foundation and keep track of water levels.

The authors, two engineers who have had to deal with this situation (i.e., projects like the John Hancock Tower and the Prudential Center) write about the planning and execution of the landfill, from start to finish, including the construction of railroads and the leveling of several areas west of Boston. The narrative does not use engineering jargon but rather keeps a conversational tone that allows the most non-technically minded reader to stay interested.

Granted, the subject matter is more interesting for engineers, city planners and the like, but the general reader will get some good insights into life in Boston during the latter half of the 19th century.

A worthwhile read, especially for tourists visiting Boston's Back Bay.
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on May 10, 2010
I liked this book, but I wanted to like it a lot more.

The authors did an extraordinary job researching their material, and they clearly know it inside and out. The bibliography is comprehensive and replete with obscure and undoubtedly hard-to-find original sources. I do not doubt or quibble with their scholarship by any means.

I just found the presentation a bit dry and tending to jump around a little without developing any satisfying depth on any particular issue. I had always expected the story of Boston's enormorous 19th-century landfill project to be rife with political dealings, strong personalities, etc., just as you get today. Maybe the mid-1800s were different, or maybe the authors here just presented an engineer's account of the project, without focusing much on the personalities.

Two gentlemen were initially in charge of the project, which was later reduced to one. That shift was not explored all that thoroughly, nor was the character of either of the two managers ever really plumbed.

From an engineering standpoint, the book is remarkable. From a social history standpoint, less so.
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on December 5, 2012
This book has wonderful details about Back Bay and how it came to be. It covers the rich sense of order laid out in its overall design.
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on September 21, 2006
Very enjoyable read. I've read a number of books on Boston's history, but "Boston's Back Bay" is outstanding. One feature I particularly like is that the book points out 19th century place references in term of present day landmarks. This is enormously helpful, and in my experience, it is unique.
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