The Great Bridge

The Great Bridge

The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

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The dramatic and enthralling story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the world’s longest suspension bridge at the time, a tale of greed, corruption, and obstruction but also of optimism, heroism, and determination, told by master historian David McCullough.

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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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 562 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780671457112 | 
  • January 1983
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David McCullough Wishes He Had This Talent

If David McCullough could acquire any talent, it would be this surprising ability.

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Chapter One: The Plan

The shapes arise!
-- WALT WHITMAN

They met at his request on at least six different occasions, beginning in February 1869. With everyone present, there were just nine in all -- the seven distinguished consultants he had selected; his oldest son, Colonel Washington Roebling, who kept the minutes; and himself, the intense, enigmatic John Augustus Roebling, wealthy wire rope manufacturer of Trenton, New Jersey, and builder of unprecedented suspension bridges.

They met at the Brooklyn Gas Light Company on Fulton Street, where the new Bridge Company had been conducting its affairs until regular... see more

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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 co see more

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