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Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America's Greatest Bridge Paperback – April 24, 2012
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The Golden Gate Bridge, connecting the city of San Francisco to adjacent Marin County, was completed in 1937, at the time the longest suspension bridge in the world. Starr, a former California state librarian who has written extensively on the state's history, follows the bridge construction from inception to completion. The driving force behind the project was Joseph Strauss, an engineer with a strong aesthetic strain and a gift for promotion, especially self-promotion. He faced considerable opposition to the project from powerful forces, including the military and local business interests. His relentless manipulative and persuasive skills prevailed, assisted by the attraction of a massive public-works project during the depths of the Great Depression. The final result was both a structural and artistic triumph that for many became as important an American symbol as the Statue of Liberty on the opposite coast. This is an informative and easily digestible chronicle. --Jay Freeman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Gracefully written… Starr's volume, showing how he and others appreciate the bridge in its multiple roles in engineering, transport, and artistry, is a loving tribute.”"—Commercial Dispatch"
“Starr delights as much in the details of history and on-going maintenance as he does in the contours of the bridge itself.”"—San Francisco Book Review"
“Kevin Starr seems particularly well equipped to write a biography of that famous orange bridge. The author of more than half a dozen histories of California, Mr. Starr has written frequently about the myths and metaphors that festoon the Golden State, and he seems to instinctively understand the place that the Golden Gate Bridge has come to occupy in the national imagination as a symbol of American enterprise and the gateway to the Pacific. Mr. Starr does an agile job of situating the tale within the larger context of San Francisco’s efforts to rebuild after the Grea
"Gracefully written... Starr's volume, showing how he and others appreciate the bridge in its multiple roles in engineering, transport, and artistry, is a loving tribute.""--Commercial Dispatch"
"Starr delights as much in the details of history and on-going maintenance as he does in the contours of the bridge itself.""--San Francisco Book Review"
"Kevin Starr seems particularly well equipped to write a biography of that famous orange bridge. The author of more than half a dozen histories of California, Mr. Starr has written frequently about the myths and metaphors that festoon the Golden State, and he seems to instinctively understand the place that the Golden Gate Bridge has come to occupy in the national imagination as a symbol of American enterprise and the gateway to the Pacific. Mr. Starr does an agile job of situating the tale within the larger context of San Francisco's efforts to rebuild after the Great Earthquake of 1906 and the nation's march from the Roaring T
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The author begins with the geologic creation of the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate itself and progresses through the hunt to find the bay and the opening to the sea that the Spanish had sought for so many decades. He then moves into a brief discussion of the city and the need for a bridge from the city to the Marin Headlands.
Once in the twentieth century, the author inter weaves the story of the need and desire for the bridge with the story of it's development, design, and the political fighting that occurred to keep any bridge from being built. It is amazing how many different groups had an interest in keeping a bridge from being built. From the design stage, the author details the actual construction and financing of the bridge and explores how it was built with private money in a time when all such projects were public works projects. As contrast, the author compares it with the Oakland-Bay Bridge which was under construction at about the same time with federal and state monies.
The author ends the book with a little of the sociology of the bridge, including the inspiration it provides for artists and the use of the bridge by people wanting to commit suicide.
If you are looking for the detailed history of the bridge, then you will be disappointed with this book. If, however, you are interested in more than just the nuts and bolts of the construction of the bridge, you will love this book. It is well written, concise and very enjoyable. In addition, there are about 8 pages of spectacular color photographs includ
However, a history of the Golden Gate Bridge is ripe with drama. As just one example, to construct the bridge's south tower, workers had to cordon off a football field-sized section of the ocean, drain about 300 feet of water from the cordoned area until the bedrock was exposed, build the support tower in the temporarily drained area while the ocean raged just outside the barriers, and then flood the area once the support tower was finished. To a non-engineer like me, those actions seem almost super-human in their execution. I wanted to find out every detail of that amazing engineering feat. But, Starr depicts the entire event in just a couple of paragraphs. Other aspects of the bridge's history are similarly short-changed. Thus, what could be seared into the reader's mind by focusing on the drama inherent in the subject is instead rendered into a trivia point.
Starr clearly feels the drama that the Golden Gate Bridge engenders, as is evidenced by the numerous sections where he waxes poetically about the bridge. But, Starr's ability to convey that drama in his writing is, at best, limited. Because of that limitation, Golden Gate is simply adequate when it could, and should, be memorable.
It's a readable account of the bridge and the controversy around its creation. The reality is people of the San Francisco area have far more imagination, talent and sense of the future than some of their civic leaders; which is why San Francisco has "Silicon Valley" and places such as Phoenix have an abundance of empty warehouses.
Every city has a choice between mediocrity and dull conformity, or greatness. Creation of a truly iconic work of art, such as the Golden Gate Bridge, is much more than a municipal debate. It defines a community for decades; a bold vision tells everyone that new ideas are welcome. Phoenix is a way station for people who are fleeing California; San Francisco is a city where people "leave their heart" when they leave.
Starr does a workable job in describing creation of the bridge; he misses the spark of inspiration that is the creative genius behind its elegant design. Like many works of great art, it looked impossible as a proposal and inevitable once completed. It would help immensely to include pictures of rejected alternatives. Obviously, a copy of the Brooklyn Bridge or the cantilever of the Quebec Bridge would have been far out-of-place in expressing the California spirit.
As a Canadian, California is always the "test flight" version of what the future can offer to those with the courage to embrace new ideas. It's not that Starr isn't competent; it's just that his portrayal seems somewhat less than the bridge itself.