Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels
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Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels

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3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  296 ratings  ·  53 reviews
The demolition of Penn Station in 1963 destroyed not just a soaring neoclassical edifice but also a building that commemorated one of the last century's great engineering feats—the construction of railroad tunnels into New York City. Now, in this gripping narrative, Jill Jonnes tells this fascinating story—a high-stakes drama that pitted the money and will of the nation's...more
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Published May 28th 2007 by Tantor Media (first published 2007)
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Dan Palmer
After reading this book two things stand out in my mind:

1) This book is much more a book about the unprecedented engineering of the river tunnels than it is about Charles McKim's lamented travertine and granite pile, and that is fine with me. To truly appreciate the architecture of any era one must also appreciate the engineering that made such architecture possible.

2) The hour that PBS devoted to this fascinating story of muscle, mud machinery and architectural majesty did not do its story jus...more
Ron
Feb 06, 2010 Ron rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ron by: Paul Steinke
A really good read, about the Pennsylvania Railroad's long-delayed (and desired) entry onto the island of Manhattan. The book makes the creation of urban infrastructure interesting, and it's particularly fun to read about the incremental construction of the tunnels, and how they were shifting around under the alluvial silt under the Hudson River. But what I was hoping to learn more about, but only found a little bit of, was how the Pennsylvania Railroad was seen by New Yorkers as a Philadelphian...more
Brian
Conquering Gotham tells the history of the building of Penn Station and the building of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR). The story is fraught with ego, engineering feats and sacrifice of the common worker like most Gilded Age histories. The struggle of the conquering the east river and the tunnels being built is the primary story in the book with little actually devoted to Penn Station other than being a building out of place and time. The book also covers the typical Tammany Hall corruption and...more
Robin
This is probably the best book that could have been written about the Pennsylvania Railway's epic struggle to bring its railway to New York early in the 20th century given the constraints of the material. Before then all the railways, save for the New York Central of the Vanderbilts, had to terminate at the Hudson River and send their passengers across in ferries. Conquering Gotham relates the business, engineering and political battle to build tunnels under the Hudson and turn two blocks of Man...more
William Thompson
If you're wanting a book about the Penn Central Station in New York City, this is not the book. Instead, it is an informative, excellent book on the travails of building the necessary tunnels to bring the Pennsylvania Central Railroad trains from New Jersey into Manhattan and the tunnels necessary to take the Long Island Railroad from Penn Central Station that almost immediately began to create the huge residential developments on Long Island. Before the tunnels were built, the Vanderbilt-contro...more
Ryan Holiday
This book is interesting but ultimately disappointing. The title and description do a magnificent job overselling the book as a cutaway look inside an urban landmark. Rather than a treasure trove of unknown details and secrets of a subway and train terminal that millions of people use on a daily basis, it is dry narrative of the men who constructed it.

For instance, it's more than 100 pages into the book that ground is finally broken on the tunnel and nearly halfway until Penn Station begins to t...more
Chrissie
Nice pictoral synopsis of the incredible challenge of bringing the railroad into Manhattan from the West. Reads like a novel most of the time and uses quotes and historical items to corroborate historical events. The portions that make it particularly interesting bring the current events of the time into perspective to illustrate how this epic project was possible and ultimately successful. We truly live in a different age.
My only criticism would be the many characters that are part of this stor...more
Tracey
Despite never having been to New York City, I find myself drawn to both fiction and non-fiction about it, especially the period from the 1870's to the 1910's. This work provided some additional background (as well as a pleasant excursion) into that world.

Jonnes provides a great amount of detail in both the construction aspects and the political wheelings and dealings of the herculean task of bringing the railroad to Manhattan. I'm not sure which was the greater foe: Tammany or the Hudson River!...more
Bob
Very enjoyable read about the construction of Penn Station in NYC and the tunnels that connected it to New Jersey, Long Island and Connecticut. More than an engineering tale, the PRR took a stance against the corruption of the day and had to fight the governments of NYC and NY state to accomplish their goals. I had recently finished reading "The Bully Pulpit" and it was nice that this book connected to that one in dozens of ways and yet had almost no overlap; a perfect compliment!
Dan
are you a former history major? this book might just be for you. not gonna lie, i was at a bookstore's closing sale and saw this book on the shelf. it looked interesting so i grabbed it. anyway, as you might be able to tell from the title, this book details the pennsylvania railroads epic struggle to build tunnels beneath the rivers surrounding manhattan. obviously it wasn't easy. both in terms of physical construction and the citywide corruption necessary to get something of this magnitude buil...more
Peg
Found this book at a hotel and started to read it; had to buy it to finish. This is a true story set in the golden age of railroads at the beginning of the 20th century. It chronicles the building of the tunnels under the Hudson River to connect the Pennsylvania RR lines that spanned the country with Manhattan. Prior to these tunnels being built, passengers would have to leave the trains in NJ and take ferries across the river to reach NYC. The engineering challenges were monumental, as were the...more
Jane
I'd rate this book somewhere between a 3 and 4.

Interesting to learn about the trials railroad executives had to go through to build Penn Station. I was confused throughout the book when the author was describing the grandeur of the station because the present day Penn Station is sad and characterless.
Philip Fierlinger
This book was particularly interesting since I grew up in the Main Line neighborhood where Cassatt lived and of course spent a fair bit of time going up to NYC through those very tunnels into Penn Station.

For some reason, I seem to have a some strange kick for reading books on history, shipping, pioneering, and the New York region.

I really wish there was a video that would show exactly how the tunnels were dug out. It's not all that clear from the descriptions in the book.

Other than that, I rea...more
Chad
This book covers the the epic trials faced by the PRR when building Penn stations and it's associated tunnels in NYC. Jonnes brings to life the assortment of colorful railroad barons, Tammany bosses, politicians, engineers and others involved in this massive construction effort. The biggest to date on American soil and the building of the longest sub-aqueous tunnels at that time. Tunnels that are still in use today I might add. Makes on feel sorry for the loss of such a great building from the N...more
Ahf
This is a great argument for abridged books (which I normally hate). There was about 1 hour of really exciting and interesting story here, but it took 8 hours to tell. About the creation of Penn station in NY, and the associated tunnels to get the trains into the city. I've always wondered how tunnels under water were built (now I know) why the rail system of the US has the names it has, and how that grew like topsy, the evils of Taminey, and what Teddy Rosevelt was like as a president. I got go...more
Reuben Cohen
For non-fiction this is an incredible story. We take those trains that go under the Hudson River for granted. Well, it was quite an event to make that happen. And I am not referring to what it took to connect a tunnel that started both in Manhattan and NJ and make them meet in the middle. There was all of the politics it took to make it happen. But I will not spoil a good story. Read on because you may find politics may not have change too much in the century since these events took place.
Scott
First off this book had immense appeal because of my interest in architecture and design throughout the Guilded Age in addition to its struggles, it's triumphs and the speed of the ever-changing field of technology and engineering of that time. This book also gave me a sense of pride reading about a fellow Pennsylvanian, Alexander Cassatt and his rise through the ranks to steer the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad into one of the most successful and momentous periods in its history.
Gordon Howard
An excellent non-fiction book about the construction of the Pennsylvania railroad's tunnels under the Hudson River, and the magnificant Pennsylvania Station on New York's west side, in the first decade of the 20th century. The tunnels are still used today for AMTRAK and commuter passenger trains. The station, sadly, was demolished in 1963. Lots of interesting vignettes of the railroad's executives, the architects, and the times in New York City.
Du
This was a really well written non-fiction book. It was intricate where it needed to be and grand where it should be. The work and deals that went into bringing the railroad across the Hudson River into NYC was amazing, and the scope and scale of Penn Station was incredible. It is amazing that such a structure was removed and lost for us. The images in the book leave you wanting more.

I'm glad that I picked this book up.
Michael Carnell
Loved this book. I read it as an audiobook and, while my daughter made fun of it, I thought it was fantastic. Ok, if you aren't a rail or history buff much of it would probably be very dry or boring, it is just the type of thing for someone like myself. It goes far beyond just the mere building of Penn Station and the railway and covers much of the culture and politics of the time.
Brent
I was intrigued by the premise of this book, and I enjoyed it up to a point. However, I found the story began to drag in the middle and I lost interest. To be fair, I was attempting this book during the last couple weeks of my semester, as finals and project due dates loomed. I may have been better served choosing an easier and lighthearted read and saving this book for a later date.
Mr.
Wonderful read about an oddly underreported topic. The entire book creates such a wonderful mosiac of the time period, without swamping the reader in minutia. The Alexander Cassatt/Daniel Burnham relationship, and the struggle that they faced in developing this incredible station is so emblematic of how the world operated at the turn of the 20th Century.
Greg
Fast paced, readable and sad book. All of the work that was done, and the station and tunnels weren't the amazing success that the engineers and financiers thought it would be. However, due to their vision, the rest of the country had another way to get into NYC and now millions of commuters can get to and from NYC without (too many) delays.

Converse
How the Pennsylvania Railroad finally got a station in Manhattan,the many difficulties in constructing the tunnels, and what happened to this building, modelled on a Roman bath, in the 1960s. One thing the builders had not expected was that most of the traffic would come from the Long Island commuter line.
Blane Mccurdy
I really liked this book. Great insite into the efforts of some amazing people who acheived a impossible task. Great detail and characters. This era in New York was unknown to me and I couldn't put it down. The tunnels and the Penn Station mus have really been something to see.
Rebecca
WOW What a horrible mistake taking down this beautiful building. I would have given anything to walk though it. But they did not know what they were doing. Still to this day there are sculptures in the river by Giants stadium.Great read if you love New York history.
Elizabeth
Okay, I love New York City history. This story of Penn Station and the tunnels from New Jersey to that station is fascinating. Those tunnels...ooo boy, I'm never driving in them again...they'll never work. If you love NYC and history in general, you'll love it.
Diana
An interesting study of both technical and political challenges in building tunnels under the Hudson to bring the Pennsylvania railroad into New York City. Includes photos and drawings from the excavation and building of the tunnels and Penn Station.
Linda
Fascinating story and beautifully written. Thinking of the men who dug those tunnels, working under the river 8 hrs per day, 6 days per week, the "mudhogs", made my job (very difficult and long hours esp. at the time I read this) seem a lot easier.
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