Friday, May 28, 2010

Book Review: The Brooklyn Bridge by Judith St. George

St. George, Judith. The Brooklyn Bridge: They Said It Couldn’t Be Built. New York: Putnam, 1982.

Published shortly before the centennial of the Brooklyn Bridge, this book is a short history of bridge. The story of the bridge is necessarily the story of the Roeblings, the family responsible for designing the bridge and overseeing its construction.

When the builders completed the bridge in 1883, it was at the end of 14 years of construction. The plan for the bridge went back further to 1857 when engineer and German immigrant John Roebling first proposed a bridge across the East River to connect New York to Brooklyn. At the time, the only communication across the river was by ferry. Roebling was the leading suspension bridge engineer in the United States.

The bridge would not get needed support until after the Civil War. In the mean time, Roebling’s son Washington would be come a skilled engineer in own right, studying Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, getting a practical education working with his father and studying bridge-building techniques in Europe in the company of his wife, Emily. He also was trained in leadership, having risen to the rank of colonel in the Army during the Civil War.

The bridge took a great toll on the Roeblings. John was killed by tetanus early in the development of the project. Washington’s health was ruined by caisson’s disease (the bends) and for many years Emily acted as his hand, feet, eyes and ears on the bridge project.

St. George’s brief book is a quick read, but for its brevity still a good overview of the bridges development and construction. It includes several photos and illustrations. It seems suitable for younger readers, but is not too simplistic for an adult reader who wants a quick introduction to the bridge and its early history.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in
Dreams of Iron and Steel by Deborah Cadbury

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