Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

CHIEF ENGINEER: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Erica Wagner

  • Written by  Mick Herron
  • Published in Books
CHIEF ENGINEER: The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Erica Wagner
07 Aug
2017
Bridges are more than just a means of connection, writes Wagner; as long as you’re suspended upon one, you’re in no place at all – ‘you belong, quite simply, to the bridge.’ 

And few have belonged to a bridge more absolutely than Washington Roebling, who took over the building of Brooklyn’s finest upon its engineer’s death. The fact that said engineer was his father made for a complicated web of relationships; indeed, Washington and John Roeblings’ lives and achievements were so intermingled that Washington’s biography of his father was in part the story of his own life, much of it unhappy.

He endured a brutal upbringing. His father was Janus-faced: a public philanthropist who appeared, to the world at large, ‘the very definition of the rational man’, and for whom bridge-building, in the aftermath of the Civil War, was both symbolic and practical; but a tyrant in private, subjecting his wife and children to beatings and savagery. Nor did his rationality belie an interest in spiritualism, which he pursued in order to contact his late wife (whom he treated more kindly once she was dead), and to settle arguments with absent friends.

Given this, Washington might be forgiven had he turned out less than functional; as it was, his genius is apparent from Wagner’s sympathetic account. The task he faced was monumental: aside from the challenges posed by the engineering itself, he had to deal with ‘caisson disease’ – the decompression sickness afflicting those working in the underwater chambers that construction required – and civic corruption, New York being run by the infamous ‘Boss Tweed’ while plans for the bridge were being drawn up.

It’s clear that Wagner’s book has been a labour of love for its author as much as the bridge was for its engineer: this is a painstakingly researched, and highly engrossing read.

Click here to purchase Chief Engineer: the Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge by Erica Wagner

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe to Geographical!

University of Winchester

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    Hung out to dry
    Wetlands are vital storehouses of biodiversity and important bulwarks against the effects of climate change, while also providing livelihoods for mill...
    The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in REVIEWS...

Exhibitions

Four new galleries at Royal Museums Greenwich explore Britain’s maritime…

Books

by John Foot • Bloomsbury • £25 (hardback)

Books

by Deborah Baker • Chatto & Windus • £25 (hardback)

Books

By Lucy Seigle • Trapexe • £12.99/£6.99 (hardback/eBook)

Books

by Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin • Pelican • £8.99 (paperback)

Books

by Christoph Baumer • IB Tauris • £30 (hardback)

Books

by Charles Lane • River Books • £40 (hardback)

Books

by Graham Hoyland• William Collins • £20 (hardback)

Books

by Dr Lucy Jones• Doubleday Books • £19.99 (hardback)

Books

by Daniel Pinchbeck• Watkins • £9.99 (paperback)

Books

by Jasper Winn • Profile Books • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Nathan H Lents • Weidenfeld & Nicolson • £16.99…

Films

This hard-hitting marine conservation film – part of the Ocean…

Films

Here are the newest non-fiction offerings to satisfy that craving…

Exhibitions

The Society’s Earth Photo exhibition captures the planet’s natural riches…

Books

by Alanna Mitchell • Oneworld • £16.99 (hardback)

Books

by Christopher J Preston • The MIT Press • £20.95…

Books

by Jamal Mahjoub • Bloomsbury • £25 (hardback)

Books

by Joanna Kafarowski • Dundurn Press • 15.99 (hardback)

Books

by Peter Dauvergne • Polity Books • £9.99 (paperback)