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The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

Written by David McCullough

Narrated by Nelson Runger


The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

Written by David McCullough

Narrated by Nelson Runger

ratings:
4.5/5 (57 ratings)
Length:
27 hours
Released:
May 15, 2012
ISBN:
9781442355606
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Editor's Note

A modern marvel…

With verve and vitality, McCullough tells the amazing story of a modern marvel. From dangerous working conditions to corrupt bargains to heroic feats, this is the story of how a bridge came to symbolize New York.

Description

This monumental book tells the enthralling story of one of the greatest accomplishments in our nation's history, the building of what was then the longest suspension bridge in the world. The Brooklyn Bridge rose out of the expansive era following the Civil War, when Americans believed all things were possible.

So daring a concept as spanning the East River to join two great cities required vision and dedication of the kind that went into building Europe's great cathedrals. During 14 years of construction, the odds against success seemed overwhelming. Thousands of people were put to work. Bodies were crushed and broken, lives lost, notorious political empires fell, and surges of public doubt constantly threatened the project. But the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is not just the saga of an engineering miracle; it is a sweeping narrative of the social climate of the time, replete with heroes and rascals who helped either to construct or to exploit the great enterprise.

The Great Bridge is also the story of a remarkable family, the Roeblings, who conceived and executed the audacious engineering plan at great personal cost. Without John Roebling's vision, his son Washington's skill and courage, and Washington's wife Emily's dedication, the bridge we know and cherish would never have been built.

Like the engineering marvel it describes, The Great Bridge, republished on the 40th anniversary of its initial publication, has stood the test of time.

A Simon & Schuster audio production.

Released:
May 15, 2012
ISBN:
9781442355606
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

About the author

David McCullough has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback. His other acclaimed books include The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, Brave Companions, 1776, The Greater Journey, The American Spirit, and The Wright Brothers. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Visit DavidMcCullough.com.


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Reviews

What people think about The Great Bridge

4.5
57 ratings / 37 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    David McCullough truly is a national treasure as many people have come to call him. He is a wonderful writer whose love of American History is inspiring to anyone who has ever read his works or heard him speak. This book looks at the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge in great detail. As always, McCullough looks at all parts of the story, from the building and engineering challenges, to the local politics and all of the historical figures involved. I would never have read a book about this topic if it was written by a different author, and I learned a great deal from the read. Highly recommended.
  • (4/5)
    What's the longest period that a book has been on your "to read" list before you actually read it? For me, it may be 33 years as I got a copy of this book around the time of the Brooklyn Bridge centennial in 1983, looked at the pictures a lot, but never got around to reading. Since my copy of the book is falling apart, I listened to it as an audiobook. It's a straightforward history of the planning, construction, and aftermath of Brooklyn Bridge and it's effect on the cities of New York and Brooklyn. Central to the story are three people: John Roebling - the great bridge builder who designed Brooklyn Bridge but died as construction was begining in 1869, Washington Roebling - who emerged from his father's shadow as chief engineer but suffered greatly from illness and injury that kept him away from the job site, and Emily Roebling - who stepped in to manage the chief engineer responsibilities when her husband was indisposed. The construction of Brooklyn Bridge faced many challenges including the physical demanding work of the laborers leading to injury and death (particularly the notorious caisson's disease), a rivalry with James Eads - then constructing a bridge across the Mississippi at St. Louis, and the revelations of corruption of the Tweed Ring that were tied up in the bridge project. All three of these things lead to efforts to remove Washington Roebling that would be defeated. If there's one flaw to this book it's that McCullough tends to pile on the details and repeat himself in ways that make this a less engaging read than it could be, but otherwise it's a fascinating story of a significant monument in American history.
  • (5/5)
    An excellent book. The writer takes the technical and makes it accessible. He rings the personalities to vibrant life. A great read.
  • (5/5)
    Thoroughly researched, compellingly written, the Great Bridge is a wondrous tale of man-made engineering in the late 19th century and the people who made the glorious Brooklyn Bridge happen, especially that of J.A. Roebling.
  • (4/5)
    [The Great Bridge] is the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge along with the politics and personalities involved. Interesting and entertaining except that John A. Roebling was hardly likable and some of the technical descriptions were tedious.
  • (4/5)
    Well researched, comprehensive narrative of the building of the world's largest suspension bridge at the time. Deep insights in Washington & JOhn Roebling
  • (5/5)
    The Great Bridge. The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough is a wonderfully written magnificent account of one of the greatest engineering feats of its time. McCullough the Pulitzer Prize winning historical author takes a seemingly small subject maybe less than book worthy and weaves it into a fascinating account of engineering marvels, political corruption and a cast of characters worthy of any movie. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. McCulloughs research and attention to detail are second to none. I had the privilege of meeting and attending a lecture by McCullough and he is just as eloquent and well versed as his writing clearly demonstrates.
  • (5/5)
    Loved it! This story tells of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge...and it is a very entertaining story. It tells the story of the man who was responsible for the construction, Chief Engineer Washington A. Roebling. We learn about his life, and about the personal and technical challenges he overcame to see the bridge built. We also learn about the history of the time....the Civil War, the Statue of Liberty arriving as a centennial birthday present from France, Boss Tweed and his "gang", a secret subway being dug under New York City...so much happening! Only once did the engineering aspects confuse me...this is a book for anyone interested in history and personal stories.
  • (5/5)
    Loved this book, although some of the engineering descriptions were a little deep in the weeds for this non-technical reader. Still, a fascinating account and must reading for anyone who has ever walked over the Brooklyn Bridge.
  • (4/5)
    Detailed story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is one part engineering (exhilarating) and one part politics (exasperating). Washington Roebling emerges as a true genius, with a photographic memory and the ability to write instructions for his loyal band of engineers that are so detailed the work can proceed without his presence after he is crippled by the bends. Aided by his wife, who soon amazes everyone with her own capabilities, he struggles against the politicians from Brooklyn and New York who are looking to use the bridge for their own self-aggrandizement, by either supporting it or condemning it. The political intrigue is a necessary part of the book and McCullough does a good job of sorting fact from fiction from rumor, drawing upon papers only available long after the events in question, including Washington Roebling's own private notes. You'll hold your breath during these intrigues hoping things turn out okay--but the real joy of the book is the story of how the bridge was conceived and built and its monstrous scale (for its time) and enormous amount of material - stone, steel - and incredibly brave (or desperate for work) men who risked death in the caissons to sink the foundations for the Brooklyn and New York towers. McCullough does a good job of explaining the science, and the book's pictures help, but even more diagrams would have made it better. As the cover says, there is a cast of thousands, and some are familiar villains (Boss Tweed) while others are obscure heroes such as Ludwig Semler, the Brooklyn Comptroller, who spoke up on Roebling's behalf when the mayor of Brooklyn, Seth Low, was trying to have him removed.This book took a long time to read--not because it was difficult to read, but because every time another bridge or feat of engineering was mentioned, I had to look it up on the Internet and read all about it. If you have an interest in bridges, you definitely won't want to miss this book. But it will also demonstrate the individual genius of certain men, such as Washington Roebling and his father John, that drive the world forward even while so many can only think about what' s in it for themselves.
  • (5/5)
    Incredible story told in classic McCullough style!
  • (5/5)
    An epic story - and compelling even though it was historical.
  • (4/5)
    Epic retelling of the construction of what at its time was an unprecedented feat of civil engineering. McCullough presents technical details in an accessible manner while also exploring the New York City and the Brooklyn of the period, including the political considerations which hampered progress on the project. More than anything, though, the book is the story of the three individuals who brought the project to fulfillment.The original plans were laid by John Roebling, a German-born wire manufacturer whose genius led him to design and build multiple suspension bridges. But early in the construction process, a workplace accident cost him the toes of one foot. Tetanus set in, and he died a terrible death.Upon John's death, his son (Washington Roebling) was promoted to replace him as Principle Engineer. Many think that his father had planned to eventually put his son (an engineering graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) in charge all along. But the younger Roebling became a housebound invalid following a bad experience of decompression sickness. Nevertheless, he continued to manage the construction from his sickroom.Washington's wife, Emily Roebling, provided invaluable assistance in mediating between him, his assistant engineers, and the Board of Directors.
  • (4/5)
    This was a really interesting book; who knew it was so hard to build the Brooklyn Bridge? Or that it took so long? There's a lot of fascinating history here and some great information about the engineering challenges. McCullough manages the transitions between politics and economics, between the personal lives of the leaders and the shenanigans of Tammany Hall, between Brooklyn and St Louis, gracefully. I especially enjoyed the vivid descriptions of working in the caissons, and of the response of the people of Brooklyn when the bridge was open.
  • (4/5)
    The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge The making of the Brooklyn Bridge. Interesting story of how this all came about, who was involved and in what capacity.Liked this book a lot for all that was involved in it and learning of the builders other works.I received this book from National Library Service for my BARD (Braille Audio Reading Device).
  • (4/5)
    I listened to this story on audio book. There were a couple of spots where it was a little slow, but for the most part this was an intriguing story. One of the most interesting aspects, for me, was learning of the involvement of Emily Roebling. John Roebling was the man with the idea of the Brooklyn Bridge, but he died before the bridge had hardly taken off. His son, Washington, became the chief engineer, but he became very ill during the construction, so his wife, Emily, took over many of the responsibilities. She was literally his eyes, ears, and legs, and seemed to have had a great understanding of the science and engineering of the bridge. She was her husband's secretary and nurse, and even made some of the decisions when he was too ill to be disturbed. Most of the other engineers respected her and followed her direction. This, to me, is truly amazing for the time period during which the bridge was being constructed, which was the late 1800s. Another interesting topic, was the bends, which many of the workers suffered from while working in the caissons. It was fascinating to see how they went about, through trial and error, to understand the causes and to try to find a solution for them. Also interesting was the information about New York's politics, and how they affected the building of the bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge to this day is such a wonder to view, and it is great to have such a detailed biography of what it took to build it.
  • (5/5)
    Wonderful history of the great bridge filled with great insights and details.
  • (5/5)
    I got to walk the bridge and this book brought it to life
  • (4/5)
    Really good read for bridge engineers.
    When talking about dates, years are missing i.e. many paragraphs mentioned month / season name without stating which year.
  • (5/5)
    This is quite a story. Thoroughly researched and excellently written.
  • (3/5)
    Truly wonderful.
  • (2/5)
    While I enjoyed the people parts of the story, I became bogged down in the engineering of the bridge parts, may try to finish it up with the book so I can skip over the parts of little interest to me.
  • (4/5)
    It is not easy to build bridges.

    Let me bring up a local case, of a bridge between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Canada, has led to years of heartache, political opposition from stubborn 80-year old billionaires, controversial political deals with the devil, and years of time spent. And the thing hasn't even been built yet.

    McCullough covers not only the political side of Bridge-building, but the technical side well. This is arguably his most famous book, and with good reason. He makes the dullest of technical details shine. The obscure historical characters of a century past are given a new luster. The great bridge is almost a natural formation in the city now, like the Hudson River, but now the reader is taken back to the triumphal opening, where president Chester Arthur shook the hand of the mayor of Brooklyn, and P. T. Barnum sent a parade of elephants across, a show of durability that is uniquely American.

    Excellent stuff. McCullough is a phenomenal narrative historian and biographer, and it's good to revisit him again.
  • (5/5)
    The author goes into great detail about the building of the bridge. You have to concentrate as it is so detailed. The book is over 500 pages. I've been fascinated by this bridge, as having lived in Cincinnati for many years and seeing the Roebling Suspension bridge which connects Cincinnati to Northern Kentucky, everyday. The Cincinnati's bridge was built before the Brooklyn bridge and is still in use. It's a beautiful structure.It was nice to see the connection between the two bridges.Very interesting book.
  • (5/5)
    I must say that if David McCullough had written before I was in school, I might have ended up a history major instead of a math major. His style and manner of writing makes his books not only informative, but a pleasure to read, as well.
  • (5/5)
    Once called the eighth wonder of the world, by some, the Brooklyn Bridge stands as one of the great engineering feats in American history. In this substantial and comprehensive book, David McCullough details the history of the bridge from conception to completion. Until the bridge was built, Brooklyn, although the third largest city in America at the time, was considered something of a backwater. One man, asked why he wanted to cross the footbridge into Brooklyn (before the entire bridge was completed) replied:?I am a stranger here.??Where are you from?? asked Murphy.?From New York,? the man replied gravely.The personalities involved are integral to the story, from John and Washington Roebling ? the father and son designer and Chief Engineer, to the politicians that both helped and hindered the effort. The bridge and its builders survived bribery, contractor fraud, and the many machinations of the corrupt Boss Tweed and other politicians from both sides of the river.When the bridge opened in 1883, after fourteen years of construction, one woman who was alive for both events described the public excitement as being more than when man walked on the moon, years later.
  • (4/5)
    The Brooklyn Bridge - just the words conjure up the image of a stately icon with twinkling lights and a spider-like web of cables. But it is so much more. The Brooklyn Bridge completed in 1883 replaced nearly all the dozens of ferries that had been used to transport goods and people from Brooklyn into New York City. At the time of its construction Brooklyn was not part of the city, but due to the connection and constant traffic eventually Brooklyn became one of the 5 boroughs of the city.The construction was the greatest of its day but not without its difficulties. The caissons built for the massive spans resulted in 12 deaths due to "caissons disease" or what we now call the bends. Men worked deep below the river in areas using compressed air and without knowledge of the effects, no decompression was used for the workers. In fact, the General Engineer, Washington Roebling, suffered from the debilitating effects of the bends for over 30 years and because of it, he was unable to be present at the open ceremonies or be the first to cross the bridge (his wife had that honor).This book is an engaging chronicle of the efforts of Washington Roebling and the men who struggled to create and build this masterpiece of engineering. The author makes it seem like a love story as well as a documentation of a building of a Landmark.
  • (4/5)
    I?ve always had a strange fascination with the Brooklyn Bridge. Long before I saw it in person, I thought it was one of the most beautiful architectural structures in the world. Like the Taj Mahal and Rome?s Colosseum, images of the Brooklyn Bridge have always made me stop dead in my tracks with awe. I can?t explain it. It only got worse when I was able to walk across the actual bridge. There?s something so majestic about those gothic arches and images of it have become iconic. So when I saw a book about the story behind the bridge, written by the famous presidential biographer McCullough, I knew I had to check it out. The book tells the epic tale of the building of the bridge. It begins with the plans created by John A. Roebling. Unfortunately, he died early in the project. He was injured on the site, but was so stubborn that he resisted care until it was too late. He even tried to tell his doctor how he should be taking care of him. His son, Washington Roebling, took the reigns and was the driving force behind the completion of the project. The bridge broke all the moulds on how bridges had been built in the past. It was more ambitious and in the end, more successful than most bridges that were created before it or that have been created since. One interesting aspect of the story was the surprising part that ?the Bends? played in the building of it. The disease, caused by rapid changes in pressure, was almost unknown before this. Many men died from the condition while working on the bridge and because of that, some of the earliest reported cases came from this construction project. It gets a little dry in the middle. I love learning about the people behind the bridge, but hearing the specifics of the timber and structure beams got a bit old. I did love the way McCullough mixed in bits about the history of Brooklyn and the way the bridge changed the destiny of the New York borough. I also was surprised and delighted to find out that Washington?s wife Emily played a big part in managing the project once her husband became ill and was confined to his home. How wonderful that a woman played a role in the creation of such a beautiful structure. ?The towers, the ?most conspicuous features,? would be identical and 268 feet high. They would stand on either side of the river, in the water but close to the shore, their foundations out of sight beneath the riverbed. Their most distinguishing features would be twin Gothic arches ? two in each tower ? through which the roadways were to pass. These arches would rise more than 100 feet, like majestic cathedral windows, or the portals of the triumphal gateways.? ?True life is not only active, but also creative.? ?John A. Roebling?
  • (3/5)
    This was a bit cumbersome with a lot of side trips that really didn't affect the building of the bridge. Some of the history was necessary but at times I felt he was using it as filler. He jumped around a bit which became a little confusing. I like McCullough and expect him to be wordy but this was a bit of a disappointment. I did learn about the building of the bridge and next time I go to NYC I will go there to explore the details that were in the book.
  • (4/5)
    Entirely fascinating narrative history, as only David McCullough can do it. One-third engineering, one-third politics, and one-third graft and corruption. A tale like this could only happen in America, and especially at the end of the 19th century. I really appreciate the appendix at the end listing all the vital statistics of the Brooklyn Bridge. I hope to visit New York some day, and a walk across the promenade is at the top of my list of things to do when I get there.