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Editor’s Note

“A Modern Marvel...”

With verve & 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.
Niree N.
Scribd Editor
The dramatic and enthralling story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge at the time, a tale of greed, corruption, and obstruction but also of optimism, heroism, and determination, told by master historian David McCullough.

This monumental book is the enthralling story of one of the greatest events in our nation’s history, during the Age of Optimism—a period when Americans were convinced in their hearts that all things were possible.

In the years around 1870, when the project was first undertaken, the concept of building an unprecedented bridge to span the East River between the great cities of Manhattan and Brooklyn required a vision and determination comparable to that which went into the building of the great cathedrals. Throughout the fourteen years of its construction, the odds against the successful completion of the bridge seemed staggering. Bodies were crushed and broken, lives lost, political empires fell, and surges of public emotion constantly threatened the project. But this is not merely the saga of an engineering miracle; it is a sweeping narrative of the social climate of the time and of the heroes and rascals who had a hand in either constructing or exploiting the surpassing enterprise.

Topics: New York City, Construction, Brooklyn, Architecture, Inspirational, Politics, Epic, Corruption, Creative Nonfiction, American History, Design, Exciting, and Gilded Age

Published: Simon & Schuster on May 31, 2007
ISBN: 9780743218313
List price: $13.99
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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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
One of the finest books I've ever read, combining history, engineering, politics, and biography into a fascnating mix of characters and place. Just a great read, and one you won't forget. Inspirational, enlightening, and technical without being inaccessible. I've met the author, and he's a fine gracious man who speaks with a true love of American history.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Makes you want to be an engineer.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Overall, very good; the need to move between the technical aspects and the political aspects of the creation of the bridge create some real challenges for the reader, however, since the narrative may move from one to the other for a hundred or more pages before returning. Does not have the smooth, chronological feel that "John Adams" had. The technical aspects are highly detailed, yet were still hard to imagine.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It is a rare book which causes a catch in the chest when you complete it. A feeling of saying goodbye, a journey finished. This is one of those books. Immaculate.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Through his long line of books on some of America's greatest figures (Truman, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt) and historical events (Johnstown Flood, Panama Canal, Brooklyn Bridge), David McCollough has earned the title of America's greatest historian. As in his previous works, McCollough masterfully crafts his prose around one of the most historically significant and interesting events of 19th century America, the design and construction of the Brookly Bridge. Prior to reading this book, I must admit to an almost complete lack of appreciation for this feat. Suffice it to say that in the mid to late 19th century, construction of a suspension bridge on the scale of the Brooklyn Bridge was almost a leap of faith during a time when many if not most bridges failed soon after construction. This is largely a story about John A. Roebling and his son Washington Roebling, the former having initially designed and "sold" the bridge, the latter being left with the task of constructing the bridge following the gruesome death of his father from tetanus. Also a key player in the story is Washington Roebling's wife Emily, who many allege was actually in charge of the bridge project during the frequent periods of incapacity suffered by her husband. The background on both Roeblings was very interesting and key to an understanding of the personal dynamics involved in the politics and administration of the bridge project, and some of the most enlightening segments of the work deal with the politics of the era and region (this period spanning the reign of "Boss" Tweed over Tammany Hall). McCollough's best work, however, is taking the very complicated and cutting edge engineering principles of the time and explaining them through well crafted language and numerous sketches in such a way that most can be followed and understood (maybe not completely) by the reader. The novel concept of the caissons, by which the monstrous bridge piers were embedded into bedrock, and the resulting discovery of "the bends", was riveting reading. All in all, a typical McCollough tour de force. As in many of his previous works, most similar in style to Panama Canal, McCollough takes a historically significant event, explains why it was so significant, points out the extreme difficulties faced by the participants and puts a human face on the travails and suffering endured by the key players. As in Panama Canal, politics plays a key role in this story. If you're like me, most of the background to this story will be almost entirely new to you. Did you know that in 1880, Brooklyn was the third largest city in the United States (prior to its merger into New York City). I highly recommend this book, not just for its entertainment value, but for its great history lessons.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I'm not particularly interested in engineering or construction, but I found this book riveting. I couldn't put it down and thought it presented a good picture of engineering, politics, and culture at that time.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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 read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Read all reviews

Reviews

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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
One of the finest books I've ever read, combining history, engineering, politics, and biography into a fascnating mix of characters and place. Just a great read, and one you won't forget. Inspirational, enlightening, and technical without being inaccessible. I've met the author, and he's a fine gracious man who speaks with a true love of American history.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Makes you want to be an engineer.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Overall, very good; the need to move between the technical aspects and the political aspects of the creation of the bridge create some real challenges for the reader, however, since the narrative may move from one to the other for a hundred or more pages before returning. Does not have the smooth, chronological feel that "John Adams" had. The technical aspects are highly detailed, yet were still hard to imagine.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
It is a rare book which causes a catch in the chest when you complete it. A feeling of saying goodbye, a journey finished. This is one of those books. Immaculate.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
Through his long line of books on some of America's greatest figures (Truman, John Adams, Theodore Roosevelt) and historical events (Johnstown Flood, Panama Canal, Brooklyn Bridge), David McCollough has earned the title of America's greatest historian. As in his previous works, McCollough masterfully crafts his prose around one of the most historically significant and interesting events of 19th century America, the design and construction of the Brookly Bridge. Prior to reading this book, I must admit to an almost complete lack of appreciation for this feat. Suffice it to say that in the mid to late 19th century, construction of a suspension bridge on the scale of the Brooklyn Bridge was almost a leap of faith during a time when many if not most bridges failed soon after construction. This is largely a story about John A. Roebling and his son Washington Roebling, the former having initially designed and "sold" the bridge, the latter being left with the task of constructing the bridge following the gruesome death of his father from tetanus. Also a key player in the story is Washington Roebling's wife Emily, who many allege was actually in charge of the bridge project during the frequent periods of incapacity suffered by her husband. The background on both Roeblings was very interesting and key to an understanding of the personal dynamics involved in the politics and administration of the bridge project, and some of the most enlightening segments of the work deal with the politics of the era and region (this period spanning the reign of "Boss" Tweed over Tammany Hall). McCollough's best work, however, is taking the very complicated and cutting edge engineering principles of the time and explaining them through well crafted language and numerous sketches in such a way that most can be followed and understood (maybe not completely) by the reader. The novel concept of the caissons, by which the monstrous bridge piers were embedded into bedrock, and the resulting discovery of "the bends", was riveting reading. All in all, a typical McCollough tour de force. As in many of his previous works, most similar in style to Panama Canal, McCollough takes a historically significant event, explains why it was so significant, points out the extreme difficulties faced by the participants and puts a human face on the travails and suffering endured by the key players. As in Panama Canal, politics plays a key role in this story. If you're like me, most of the background to this story will be almost entirely new to you. Did you know that in 1880, Brooklyn was the third largest city in the United States (prior to its merger into New York City). I highly recommend this book, not just for its entertainment value, but for its great history lessons.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
I'm not particularly interested in engineering or construction, but I found this book riveting. I couldn't put it down and thought it presented a good picture of engineering, politics, and culture at that time.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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 
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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