Monday, February 11, 2013

The Great Bridge : David McCullough

The Great Bridge
By David McCullough

A fantastic read and impressive in its thoroughness in covering the technical, political, historical and personal aspects in the creation of the Brooklyn Bridge.

It largely follows the two Roeblings who were the main drivers in the Brooklyn Bridge being built: John Roebling, the man who drew up the main designs of the Brooklyn and his son, Washington Roebling, who spent 14 exhausting years as the chief engineer during its construction, after his father died of tetanus.  The book tracks the personal backgrounds of both characters: John Roebling's emigration from Germany and establishment of a town in New Jersey, his building of other bridges, his engineering philosophy, etc. and Washington Roebling's role in the Civil War, his education of caissons in Europe, his meeting and relationship with his wife Emily Roebling, etc.

This more personal perspective into the bridge engineers really helped anchor this reader, especially when later, the Bridge Company was beleaguered by issues of fraud, politics and public perception.  

There is really detailed technical coverage of the bridge itself, which got fairly dense at times (the illustrations helped immensely), but it certainly gave a wonderful portrait of how giant the scale of the project was and the uncertainty of new 'technology' at the time (ex. the caissons were extremely new and men working in these high-pressure environments encountered the bends for the first time.)

Of particular interest to me was reading about how politics and media butted into the project, which I think would be familiar to any engineer who has worked at a sufficiently large organization

All in all, this was a wonderful book, which now makes me wish I could visit the Brooklyn Bridge in the near future.

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