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The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Touchstone Books)

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The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Touchstone Books) Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

The Great Bridge by David McCullough

Reader's Group Guide

1. In 1869, conversations about the Brooklyn Bridge took a more serious tone and there was much opposition. "The bridge... was a monumental extravagance, a wild experiment, nothing but an exercise in vanity." If a less expensive medium for transportation, such as a tunnel, would adequately increase transportation between Brooklyn and Manhattan, why build a bridge of this magnitude? Is there something to be said for grandiose monuments and landmarks?

2. John A. Roebling did not practice organized religion. Like many intellectuals of the time his beliefs were based in spiritualism. Why do you think spiritualism appealed to "practical men of learning"? Do you feel that science and religion is mutually exclusive? How does spiritualism relate to Scientology and other alternative forms of spiritual practice?

3. Prior to the completion of the bridge, you get a sense that Brooklyn is a strong, self-sufficient town. "New York [City] employed considerably less than half of Brooklyn's wage earners, perhaps even as few as one in three." If that is the case, what is the strongest argument for building the bridge? What are the pros and cons of further developing Brooklyn into the "biggest city in the world"?

4. William Tweed was arguably the most powerful and influential man in New York politics. His "Tweed Ring" was built on a system that exorbitantly inflated public expenditures on construction contracts. How were Tweed and the Tweed Ring brought to justice? Can you site similar examples of his organized embezzlement in current local and national politics?

5. The "bends", drastically took its toll on the bridge workers who sunk the New York caisson. What explanations of the disease were the most far-fetched? After the New York caisson was dropped, Colonel Roebling claimed that, "just two deaths could be charged directly to the effects of pressure." Why do you think Roebling botched his final report? If you were in Roebling's position would you have interrupted the project until developing a mechanism such as the "hospital lock" to ensure the safety of the bridge workers?

6. In January of 1875, Henry Ward Beecher, pastor of Plymouth Church was accused of committing adultery with Theodore Tilton's wife. Although it was clear to the general public that Beecher was guilty, the functions of the church continued as usual, and no one was reported to have abandoned the church. McCullough writes, "a great many people who thought Beecher might be guilty after all would continue to regard him as an extraordinary human being and felt he suffered more than enough." What is your opinion on the sexual misconduct of political and/or religious figures, and the public's treatment of such scandal? Should political and/or religious figures be held to a higher standard of morality? Explain.

7. William Roebling's health began to deteriorate to the extent that he rested at home and conducted his responsibilities as Engineer-in-Chief through correspondence via his wife. With mounting medical and person expenses that outweighed his $10,000 salary, what is Roebling's driving motivation and commitment to the bridge? Have you or anyone you know been so dedicated to a passion that hard work led to the denial of health and personal wellbeing? Share your experience. Is that kind of dedication frowned upon or encouraged by today's culture?

8. After E.F. Farrington was the first to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, his pioneering effort became a huge spectacle and he became a media sensation. Do you think he felt guilty receiving so much attention when Roebling was working from his sickbed? Why did the act of being the first to cross the bridge garner more media attention than the individual whose expertise carried the bridge to fruition?

9. In a dispute over the Bessimer steel contract, why was Hewitt personally invested in discrediting Roebling despite his attempt to remain out of the public arena?

10. When workmen were digging foundations for the Brooklyn approach, the Eagle published an essay on the bridge as "the coming place for the truly artistic suicide." During this time, what did the bridge symbolize in terms of birth, death, triumph, and spectacle?

11. In 1882, the bridge was just about complete. McCullough writes, "for the first time since his father's death... Roebling could relax a little... his services were no longer vital." At this point, why didn't Roebling step down from his position as Engineer-in-Chief, and name a successor to complete the bridge? What did he have to loose?

12. In 1883, the bridge was finally complete. As a response to Hewitt's presentation of the bridge as a great symbol of progress, Roebling writes, "the advantages of modern engineering are in many ways balanced by the disadvantages of modern civilization." What are those disadvantages? Do you agree with this statement? Explain.

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smilesndeed, March 27, 2012 (view all comments by smilesndeed)
Everyone knows about the Brooklyn Bridge, or do they?
Wonderful piece of writing about something so obviously important to the people of NY that only McCullough can find enough words in 636 pages.
Find it, read it and keep it for years to come.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780671457112
Author:
McCullough, David
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Location:
New York :
Subject:
General
Subject:
History
Subject:
United states
Subject:
Engineering - Civil
Subject:
United States - State & Local
Subject:
Brooklyn bridge (new york, n.y.)
Subject:
Brooklyn bridge
Subject:
General History
Subject:
Civil
Subject:
Civil Engineering-General
Subject:
United States - 19th Century
Subject:
Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling, Washington Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling, New York City, Age of Optimism, East River, Manhattan, building the Brooklyn Bridge, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn city planning, Manhattan city planning, engineer
Subject:
Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling, Washington Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling, New York City, Age of Optimism, East River, Manhattan, building the Brooklyn Bridge, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn city planning, Manhattan city planning, engineer
Subject:
Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling, Washington Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling, New York City, Age of Optimism, East River, Manhattan, building the Brooklyn Bridge, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn city planning, Manhattan city planning, engineer
Subject:
Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling, Washington Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling, New York City, Age of Optimism, East River, Manhattan, building the Brooklyn Bridge, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn city planning, Manhattan city planning, engineer
Subject:
Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling, Washington Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling, New York City, Age of Optimism, East River, Manhattan, building the Brooklyn Bridge, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn city planning, Manhattan city planning, engineer
Subject:
Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling, Washington Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling, New York City, Age of Optimism, East River, Manhattan, building the Brooklyn Bridge, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn city planning, Manhattan city planning, engineer
Subject:
Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling, Washington Roebling, Emily Warren Roebling, New York City, Age of Optimism, East River, Manhattan, building the Brooklyn Bridge, construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn city planning, Manhattan city planning, engineer
Copyright:
Edition Number:
1st Touchstone ed.
Edition Description:
B102
Series:
Touchstone Book
Series Volume:
v. 1
Publication Date:
January 1983
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
562
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.12 in 28.98 oz
Age Level:
Brooklyn Bridge, John Roebling, Washington Roeblin

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Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Architecture » Bridges
Engineering » Civil Engineering » Bridges
Engineering » Civil Engineering » General
Featured Titles » General
History and Social Science » Americana » General
History and Social Science » Americana » New England and Mid Atlantic
History and Social Science » Americana » New York
History and Social Science » Americana » Northeast
History and Social Science » Gender Studies » Featured Titles
History and Social Science » Sale Books
History and Social Science » World History » General

The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (Touchstone Books) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$9.98 In Stock
Product details 562 pages Simon & Schuster - English 9780671457112 Reviews:
"Review" by , "The impact of the soaring structure upon the American imagination and American life has now been measured with sagacity and style by David McCullough....The Great Bridge is a book so compelling and complete as to be a literary monument, one of the best books I have read in years. McCullough has written that sort of work which brings us to the human center of the past."
"Review" by , "After reading David McCullough's account, you will never look at the old bridge in quite the same way again."
"Review" by , "The Great Bridge is a great book....What David McCullough has written is a stupendous narrative about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, with a cast of thousands (give or take 100), whose major characters come alive on the page as authentically, as creatively, as would their fictional counterparts if one had the imagination to dream up such a yarn. Once again, truth is not only stranger than fiction but a hell of a lot more entertaining. Get your hands on The Great Bridge.... This is the definitive book on the event. Do not wait for a better try: there won't be any."
"Review" by , "David McCullough has taken a dramatic and colorful episode out of the American past and described it in such a way that he sheds fresh light on a whole era in American history."
"Review" by , "McCullough is one of our most gifted living writers."
"Synopsis" by , Published on the fortieth anniversary of its initial publication, this edition of the classic book contains a new Preface by David McCullough, 'one of our most gifted living writers' (The Washington Post).

Built to join the rapidly expanding cities of New York and Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Bridge was thought by many at the start to be an impossibility destined to fail if not from insurmountable technical problems then from political corruption. (It was the heyday of Boss Tweed in New York.)

But the Brooklyn Bridge was at once the greatest engineering triumph of the age, a surpassing work of art, a proud American icon, and a story like no other in our history. Courage, chicanery, unprecedented ingenuity and plain blundering, heroes, rascals, all the best and worst in human nature played a part. At the center of the drama were the stricken chief engineer, Washington Roebling and his remarkable wife, Emily Warren Roebling, neither of whom ever gave up in the face of one heartbreaking setback after another.

The Great Bridge is a sweeping narrative of a stupendous American achievement that rose up out of its era like a cathedral, a symbol of affirmation then and still in our time.

"Synopsis" by , 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.

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