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The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge Audible – Unabridged

4.6 out of 5 stars 673 customer reviews

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By Rocco Dormarunno on September 26, 2003
Format: 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.
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Format: Paperback
Although finished over a hundred years ago, Mr. McCullough reminds us not to take the Brooklyn Bridge for granted. By interweaving hundreds of key participants and placing the events in the context of their times, Mr. McCullough reveals how hard it was to build, but how a determined few persevered. In fact, with all of the political opposition and in-fighting, it's a miracle that it did get finished during the height of the "Gilded Age." Mr. McCullough accomplishes one of the historian's hardest tasks by explaining why something we take for granted should be important to us living a century later; in other words he puts the struggle for the bridge in its proper backdrop with all of the colorful charactors who either contributed to or tried to prevent the bridge's construction. I have never been to the Brooklyn Bridge, but after reading this book, I plan on seeing it soon. Although the Bridge's story is unique to its turbulent time, it does transcend that context by celebrating the will and genius of men and women who know they are right. The story is universal in its testimony to the importance of following your beliefs. Washington Roebling and his wife Emily stand as true heroes who are still making a difference. Mr. McCullough is one of our best historians, as this book so ably proves. Highly recommended.
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Format: Paperback
My grandfather spent his whole life in Brooklyn and he loved the place. His apartment walls were lined with etchings of the city's buildings and landmarks by the now largely forgotten artist Joseph Pennell. Several times he took us to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, which we often drove over when we went to visit them from New Jersey. So I, like David McCullough, and Ken Burns who made a nice film about it, and many New Yorkers, have always loved the Bridge. In a city which long ago came to be dominated by modernistic skyscrapers, the Bridge is such an obvious throwback, with its stonework, web of steel cables, and gothic arches, it just looks like it has a tale to tell.
In this outstanding book, McCullough tells that tale--of how the bridge came to be built (from 1869 to 1883) and of the extraordinary difficulties, both man-made and natural, that had to be overcome. The story starts with the post-Civil War social milieu that gave rise to the project and the recognition on the part of the powers that be in Brooklyn that they had to be physically joined to Manhattan to keep pace in the emerging industrial world. The design for the project and the initial phases of building are largely the product of one unusual man, John Rebelling. In particular, the structure, much longer than any prior suspension bridge and required to bear significantly greater weight, was made possible by the steel cabling which Roebling himself had perfected. By contrast, the greatest challenges he faced mostly stemmed from corruption; recall that this was Tammany Hall era New York.
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Format: Paperback
It would be difficult to overpraise this splendid book - and indeed one might have thought it a unique achievement had McCullough not pulled off the trick equally well in "The path Between the Seas". The main theme may be the conception, design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, but into this are woven absorbing accounts of the social and political history of Gilded Age New York, the development of the technologies of underwater-foundations and of cable manufacture and spinning, the agonising quest to understand and treat the phenomenon of "the bends', the challenge of managing a project of a size unprecedented since classical times and, above all, the characters of a remarkable collection of men and women who were undauntedly resourceful in taking on the impossible. The story may be dominated by two engineers, the Roeblings, father and son, and by the latter's formidable wife, but a host of other fascinating personalities are brought to life, ranging from audaciously corrupt politicians, through noble and heroic army officers, down to individual technicians and workers. Mr.McCullough has a special gift for explaining technical complexities in simple and fascinating terms - this applies not only to the construction of the bridge and its foundations, but to the horrific and initially misunderstood challenge of what was termed "caisson sickness". The narrative never flags and the dangers and discomforts - indeed the sheer dreadfulness of working under pressure in the foundation caissons - are brought vividly to life. The writer excels at the moments of the highest drama - such as the almost catastrophic fire in one of the caissons, when the tension is almost unbearable, even when the final outcome is known to the reader a century and a quarter later.Read more ›
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