Author: David McCullough
Title: The Great Bridge
Narrator: Nelson Runger
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2006)
Previously Read by the Same Author: John Adams, 1776, and The Wright Brothers
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 beginning 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.
Recommended books: Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York by Kenneth D. Ackerman, 722 Miles: The Building of the Subways and How They Transformed New York by Clifton Hood, A Clearing In The Distance: Frederick Law Olmsted and America in the 19th Century by Witold Rybczy, and Five Points by Tyler Anbinder