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The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

4.23  ·  Rating details ·  13,168 ratings  ·  1,399 reviews
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 f

Hardcover, 608 pages
Published June 1st 2001 by Simon & Schuster (first published January 1st 1972)
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Kressel Housman I'm pretty sure it is. Certainly, the book is about John and Washington Roebling, the father and son team that they are playing.

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Start your review of The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge

I first became interested in the story behind the design and building of the Brooklyn Bridge a few years ago when I watched the TV documentary 'New York' by Ric Burns. In one of the episodes it focused on this land-and-river-mark - on its novelty, its innovations and the human tragedy that it also brought about.

Around that time also I read, and was fascinated by, David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas. I have therefore wanted to read this book for several years.

I have to acknowledge, thoug
Nov 17, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you haven't read a book by David McCullough you are missing a VERY good author. He writes non-fiction. He works in collaboration with a large staff. Some people may call that cheating, but I don't care b/c everything he writes is thoroughly investigated, interesting and expressed with flair. His books are never dry, never boring. He knows what to put in and what to leave out. Here he writes about the Brooklyn Bridge! How in the world can you write about a bridge and make it fascinating? He ha ...more
Aug 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to David by: Hadrian
This is an engaging history of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge was one of the greatest engineering feats of its time. The book goes into great detail about the bridge itself, its design and construction techniques.

But most of the book is devoted to the people involved. And the two people who were most involved were father and son, John and Washington Roebling. Thus, the book can also be classified as a biography. These two men had a great vision, and the skills and experience to
James Van Duker
Oct 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
When I picked up this book, I was daring McCullough to get me to read the whole thing. How could a 562 page book about a bridge -- not to meantion an antiquated bridge, not the modern technological wonders of today -- keep me going that long, I thought? Yet I had heard reviews...I had to find out what they were talking about.

I finished the book in two weeks, and as it turns out, it's not just a book about a bridge (that really would be boring), it's a book about the people and events in one of
Roy Lotz
… on a day when two young men were walking on the moon, a very old woman on Long Island would tell reporters that the public excitement over the feat was not so much compared to what she had seen “on the day they opened the Brooklyn Bridge.”

On the inside cover of my copy of this book its previous owner has inserted a little love note. The brief message is written in a very neat script, in red ink, apparently on the eve of a long separation. Now, you may think that a book about the Brooklyn B
May 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing book! Very well researched, and quite captivating from the Brooklyn to Manhattan politics to bridge building. Some of the technical things went over my head, but the writing was really fantastic and easy to understand. For anyone interested in New York City History, Brooklyn history, bridge building. I would highly recommend this.
May 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. David McCullough is one of the very best authors of all times to me. I'm not great at history, but he has a way of telling a story that penetrates into my heart and brain and soul such that I actually learn something. Then I get excited and start researching and reading more and more about whatever topic grabbed me. This time being the Brooklyn Bridge. Very interesting and a great way to learn about it. I'm including some very interesting information I ...more
J.M. Hushour
May 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In an age when simply knowing a lot about something is enough to see you denigrated and dismissed, it's nice to read a work of history celebrating the Expert and the Expert's achievements. It's also telling to read that political wits even in the second half of the 19th century were aware of this, with a journalist saying one engineer like John Roebling was worth more than a hall of bickering, petulant politicians.
I don't have little to add other than that. Like all of McCullough's works, this i
Sep 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history, architecture, and New York City
As David McCullough is one of my favorite writers about history, I expected a lot from this book and was not disappointed. Aside from the immensely engaging story of the obstacles, both engineering and human, faced and overcome to build the bridge, I was struck once again by the cavalier way most of us take great accomplishments for granted. Thank goodness there are people like David McCullough who do not!

I've read this book and listened to it a couple of times on CD, and it never fails to fasci
Kressel Housman
This is only the second David McCollough book I’ve ever read, and my motivation for it was exactly the same as with the last one: someone is planning on adapting it into a feature film. Unlike that other film, though, a biopic of Teddy Roosevelt’s years in the Dakotas that has disappeared from the American Film Company website, this one has an announced starring cast. *fangirl drumroll* DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Washington Roebling. Need I say more? Well, all right, that Oscar winner Sir Ben Kingsley ...more
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, nonfiction
As expected with a David McCullough book, this one is excellent, at least 4.5/5 stars. The book encompasses the entire 14 years of construction from 1869 to 1883. Those were years of rapid growth of the country, spanning from immediately after the devastating Civil War, to the dawning of electricity and the edge of the twentieth century. McCullough does a good job of giving the reader that historical perspective. The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge was an undertaking of mammoth proportions a ...more
Kimba Tichenor
Sep 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: american-history
As the title makes clear, this book tells the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. The book is well-researched, but for my tastes there were just way too many detours from the main story, such as very lengthy descriptions of the flora and fauna around the bridge as well as of some individuals who only played a minimal role in the building project. Still it is a fascinating story, and so if such detours do not bother you, it is worth the read.
Ally A
Nov 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
The book The Great Bridge by David McCullough was a very detailed account of the long and troublesome building of the Brooklyn Bridge. It starts with John Roebling and his design and plans for the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. When he eventually passes away his son Washington Roebling takes over and continues where his father left off. Washington Roebling and his team encounter many different problems and political situation that add time and frustration to the total time it will take to buil ...more
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I apparently liked this book more than I originally thought I had (see below). There is an awful lot of detail in this book, maybe too much. I now know way more about caissons, the bends and different types of steel than I ever thought I would ever know or ever needed to know. I do understand why all the information was included, but it was a slog to get through it all. I also have a better understanding of the Tammany Hall scandal. The political scandals of that era were amazingly blatant.
Feb 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
The Great Bridge was David McCullough’s second. It is throughly researched, and is not only a history of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, but also the politics that enabled and hindered that accomplishment and a history of the times. What makes this history very readable, though, are the personal stories revealed. John Augustus Roebling, the architect, Washington Roebling, son and chief engineer, and Emily Roebling, wife of Washington and true partner to both Washington and the project, are ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 12, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: McCullough fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: history
McCullough has improved as a writer since this book came out in 1972, but he was writing well enough even back then to carry this reader through almost seven hundred pages in three days.

One of the first grownup books I remember reading was a history of scams involving the sale of the Brooklyn Bridge. Now, finally, I've read about the construction of the thing, years after having lived in Manhattan and driven across it repeatedly and unappreciatively.

Of course McCullough, a social historian, wri
Jill Hutchinson
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Now wouldn't you think that a book about the building of a bridge would be rather dry and uninteresting? Not if it is written by historian David McCullough, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. An amazing amount of research has gone into this history of the Brooklyn Bridge.....from the dream of a father (John Roebling) to a reality by the son (Washington Roebling). We sometimes take for granted such icons as this bridge spanning the East River and never realize what it takes to make an idea a reali ...more
Mike Tully
Nov 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
One of the best non fiction books I've read. David McCullough is an extraordinary historical writer. To understand that this bridge was built over 150 years ago without all the modern excavation tools and equipment that we have today is amazing. The Brooklyn Bridge is still standing and still a valuable asset to travelers to this day.
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I couldn't believe that I was hooked on a 500 page book about bridge building. This is truly an eloquently written and expertly researched epic story of building the Brooklyn Bridge in the late 19th century.

McCullough, a masterful storyteller brought the history of the Brooklyn Bridge to life. The Brooklyn Bridge would not have existed without John and Washington Roebling, father and son. John Roebling was a German immigrant and engineer who designed the bridge with great ingenuity, but died of
Oct 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love David McCullough. I have yet to be disappointed by a book of his, and I have read most of them, and will read them all. “The Great Bridge” is no exception, but there were times when I had to push myself to read through (only a few times). This is not the fault of the author, but my own. As this book is about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge McCullough at times (appropriately) talks about engineering and other matters of science and my mind does not naturally attach itself to such thing ...more
Michael Jones
For anyone not familiar with the great struggles involved in these terrific public works projects, this is a real eye-opener. This book is very THOROUGH. I was amazed by 3 things:

1. The brilliant engineering ingenuity and hard-fought struggle to implement.

2. The totally horrible corruption surrounding politics of that day. Makes me feel like our day is not necessarily the worst.

3. How totally captivated the general public was by the spectacle of its construction. Nowadays things are being built
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook
In all my years of biography reading, this was the first time an inanimate object, the Brooklyn Bridge, took centre stage. Under the guidance of McCullough, the story of the Bridge's conception and realisation emerged not only as an architectural feat, but as an exciting part of New York history. McCullough takes the reader through a historical adventure, similar to some of the other journeys he has undertaking in his biographical works, filling pages and chapters with the impact numerous charac ...more
Mattthew McKinney
May 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Writing this from the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge! I give the author 5 stars for his research, but ultimately I found the subject matter somewhat ordinary and slow. Plus, too much of the book was taken up with highly technical descriptions of how the bridge was constructed and mundane details of bureaucracy. If a large chunk of the lengthy material had been cut down, it probably would have made for a more compelling story.
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It has taken me over 2 years to finish this excellent book. That is no reflection on the book, but on me. I have worked in Brooklyn Heights, walked this wonderful bridge. Indeed, I made sure it was featured in my college yearbook. I recall being driven over it to give birth to my first child. I have admired it my entire adult life. But now, I will never think of it the same way. An important book. The Roeblings will live on as long as this beautiful bridge stands.
Garry Geer
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I cop to being a McCullough fan-boy so I admit to lacking some objectivity. He is the only author I've ever read that would make me care about a bridge that I've never seen in a state I've only been in twice. The author does a great job winding the two threads of the bridge construction with the political/personal conflict that took place behind the scenes. It is the truest sort of drama and reminds us that no great thing is accomplished without someone suffering.
Kasa Cotugno
So much minute detail, but worth the effort. As much a portrait of the era, political and social, as a portrait of the iconic bridge, its planning, execution, and the behind the scenes shenanigans by the scoundrels of the age.
May 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Incredible book by a learned, modest author with the rare talent of taking almost anything and making it interesting, even compulsive reading. McCullough is up there with John McPhee and Anthony Beevor.
Jan 11, 2019 rated it liked it
This is nonfiction history about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and the people who made it happen. This is the third book by this author that I've read. I've had this book for quite some time and I'm glad I finally had a chance to fit this one into a reading challenge.

This one had it's ups and downs. The best part was that I found answers to questions I've always had about how bridges are built when they are over large bodies of water. I liked the facts and research in this book, but there
Apr 26, 2017 rated it liked it
There were definitely interesting bits and even some humor. It was very detailed. So much detail. Lost me during big stretches of politics and accounting. Perhaps it's just spring fever but it was so hard to stay with this one. I learned a lot but I'm so glad it's over.
Mar 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
This took me awhile but it was well worth finishing. I can't wait to go walk the Brooklyn Bridge again after learning so much about it!
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David McCullough is a Yale-educated, two-time recipient of both the Pulitzer Prize (Truman; John Adams) and the National Book Award (The Path Between the Seas; Mornings on Horseback). His many other highly-acclaimed works of historical non-fiction include The Greater Journey, 1776, Brave Companions, The Great Bridge, The Wright Brothers, and The Johnstown Flood. He has been honored with the Nation ...more

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“Roebling rejoined the Army of the Potomac in February 1863 back at Fredericksburg, where he was quartered late one night in an old stone jail, from which he would emerge the following morning with a story that would be told in the family for years and years to come. The place had little or no light, it seems, and Roebling, all alone, groping his way about, discovered an old chest that aroused his curiosity. He lifted the lid and reaching inside, his hand touched a stone-cold face. The lid came back down with a bang. Deciding to investigate no further, he cleared a place on the floor, stretched out, and went to sleep. At daybreak he opened the chest to see what sort of corpse had been keeping him company through the night and found instead a stone statue of George Washington’s mother that had been stored away for safekeeping.” 3 likes
“But even if a person were ignorant of such things, the sight of a moving train held aloft above the great gorge at Niagara by so delicate a contrivance was, in the 1860’s, nothing short of miraculous. The bridge seemed to defy the most fundamental laws of nature. Something so slight just naturally ought to give way beneath anything so heavy. That it did not seemed pure magic.” 2 likes
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