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Book Review of 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
perryfran avatar reviewed on + 1069 more book reviews


This was an absolutely fascinating history of the conception and building of the Brooklyn Bridge which took 14 years to complete from 1869 to 1883. It tells the story of John Roebling who originally planned the bridge. He died before it could be constructed which left the work to his son, Colonel Washington Roebling, a Civil War veteran and who had assisted his father in building other bridges including the bridge over the Ohio River at Cincinnati.

The book goes into great detail on the construction of the bridge and was very enlightening on how it was even possible. This included the construction of two mammoth "caissons" which were like boxes sunk into the river bed to allow men to work under air pressure to excavate the rocks and sand beneath. As the refuse was dug out, the towers of the bridge were built on top of the caissons until they reached bedrock. This work resulted in many of the workers getting "caisson disease" or the bends as it is commonly called. At the time, little was known about the disease and how to prevent or cure it. Washington Roebling was also afflicted with it which made him an invalid during much of the bridge construction. After the two stone towers were complete, the massive cables were strung using steel wire. Some of the descriptions of the men working on the cables actually gave me a feeling of vertigo; I've always had a fear of heights and how men can work at altitudes without fear always amazes me.

In addition to the bridge construction, the book tells of the politics involved including possible fraud and kickbacks. The infamous Boss Tweed was on the board of directors for the bridge along with others who may have had their own self interests at heart rather than the interests of Brooklyn and New York.

The book really makes you feel awe for how large engineering projects were ever even feasible. I have been to New York a couple of times but have never walked over the Brooklyn Bridge. If I ever make it there again, that will be one of my top priorities!


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