U.S. History Reading Group discussion

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message 1: by Mike (new)

Mike | 0 comments Please use this space to post your thoughts about McCullough's book!


message 2: by Jane (new)

Jane Gregga | 4 comments On page 12 in the "Author's Note" section, I found this riveting portion: "It became clear that this, to a large degree, was to be Washington Roebling's book. There was, for example, that day in the library at the Resselaer Polytechinic Institute when I unlocked a large storage closet to see for the first time shelf after shelf of his notebooks, scrap books, photographs, letters, blueprints, old newspapers he had saved, even the front door knocker to his house in Brooklyn. No one knew then what all was in the collection...." I'm riveted. This is going to be a book written by an author who truly loves the research process and uses the best possible primary sources. I feel privileged to be reading this book!


message 3: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (jackiedotson) | 8 comments I ordered a copy sent to my local library and I picked it up today. Can't wait to start.


message 4: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (jackiedotson) | 8 comments How is everyone's reading coming along? I'm 360 pages in. Making steady progress everyday. It flows really well. Should be done by the weekend.


message 5: by Mike (new)

Mike | 0 comments I just finished part one and, while I'm enjoying the pace of the writing, I got caught up a bit on John Roebling. Clearly, McCullough wants us to see him as a man of genius. A Great Man. But I kept thinking of what an awful person he must have been. He was terrible to his wife, he was essentially absent as a father, and he had virtually no friends. For me, this illustrates a problem with the Great Man style of history. There's no doubt that Roebling was an impressive man, but he was also a man with very human qualities worth discussing in greater detail. In my opinion, McCullough does a much better job dealing with flaws in John Adams, so perhaps this is just an earlier work from an earlier era. What do the rest of you think?


message 6: by Heather (new)

Heather | 3 comments Mike wrote: "I just finished part one and, while I'm enjoying the pace of the writing, I got caught up a bit on John Roebling. Clearly, McCullough wants us to see him as a man of genius. A Great Man. But I kept..."

Mike--I prefer historical figures to be portrayed as they actually were, not as great men (or great women). It's too simplistic.


message 7: by Susan (new)

Susan Stephenson | 5 comments Heather wrote: "Mike wrote: "I just finished part one and, while I'm enjoying the pace of the writing, I got caught up a bit on John Roebling. Clearly, McCullough wants us to see him as a man of genius. A Great Ma..."

Mike wrote: "I just finished part one and, while I'm enjoying the pace of the writing, I got caught up a bit on John Roebling. Clearly, McCullough wants us to see him as a man of genius. A Great Man. But I kept..."

Out of curiosity, what would you have liked to have seen McCullough do with the information that Roebling was not so nice?


message 8: by Mike (new)

Mike | 0 comments Confront it? Deal with it? It was the general absence of that side of him that I'm talking about.


message 9: by Susan (new)

Susan Stephenson | 5 comments It's been some time since I listened to the book. Do I recall correctly that he ran the village a bit like A commandant? I will need to reread. I will also keep my eyes open for this as I read The Wright Brothers.


message 10: by Mike (new)

Mike | 0 comments Am I the only one wishing this book could have been edited down a bit? When it's good, it's great. But I think there's some stuff in here that doesn't really add much to the story. For example, I don't think we absolutely needed the corruption section about Tweed. Granted, Tweed's is a fascinating story, but I felt like it took us too far from the bridge, which after all, is what we came to see.


message 11: by Susan (new)

Susan Stephenson | 5 comments I agree the Tweed corruption took us far from the bridge and became rather intricate, I did appreciate a deep look into exactly how pols corrupt public works projects. I'm quite sure it's true today, but at a much higher level.


message 12: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (jackiedotson) | 8 comments Mike wrote: "I just finished part one and, while I'm enjoying the pace of the writing, I got caught up a bit on John Roebling. Clearly, McCullough wants us to see him as a man of genius. A Great Man. But I kept..."

Jackie wrote: "How is everyone's reading coming along? I'm 360 pages in. Making steady progress everyday. It flows really well. Should be done by the weekend."

Mike wrote: "I just finished part one and, while I'm enjoying the pace of the writing, I got caught up a bit on John Roebling. Clearly, McCullough wants us to see him as a man of genius. A Great Man. But I kept..."

I didn't see it this way. Back in the 1800s, the expectations of what it meant to be a father and husband were quite different. Husbands were not expected to take an equal role in day to day "parenting", women took care of that. Men provided for the family. The division of labor in families was much more clear.


Roebling was first and foremost an engineer. It was this role that was most important to him, everything else was secondary. As such, he wasn't particularly social.


message 13: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (jackiedotson) | 8 comments Mike wrote: "Am I the only one wishing this book could have been edited down a bit? When it's good, it's great. But I think there's some stuff in here that doesn't really add much to the story. For example, I d..."

I thought this was just me because I am from NYC and know a fair amount of NYC history, which is another way of saying I already know enough about Boss Tweed. I agree that some discussion of Tweed was important to set the tone of New York during that era, but I think he went into too much detail.


message 14: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (jackiedotson) | 8 comments Jane wrote: "On page 12 in the "Author's Note" section, I found this riveting portion: "It became clear that this, to a large degree, was to be Washington Roebling's book. There was, for example, that day in t..."
Talk about an amazing set of primary sources! McCullough set a nice tone for the beginning of the book with this description.


message 15: by Mike (new)

Mike | 0 comments Jackie, I get that Roeblimg was acting within traditional gender roles, but just because it was traditional doesn't mean it is above critique. It seems to me that Roebling can be discussed as a great engineer while also discussing how that greatness also made him a flawed human being. In my opinion, McCullough glossed over that in a way I found problematic. I prefer the whole picture, warts and all.


message 16: by Jackie (new)

Jackie (jackiedotson) | 8 comments Oh ok. I wasn't clear on that. Yeah I like a well rounded picture too. Warts and all!


message 17: by Heather (new)

Heather | 3 comments I think this book is a significant step back from the author's book on the Johnstown flood. I don't know how many people have read that book since it's not as long as most of his other books, but it does manage to criticize so-called great men and recognizes their flaws. This book on the Brooklyn bridge definitely needed some editing, so much so that I really don't feel inclined to read further. It seems the author was trying to write his first great tome and had no idea how to organize it yet.


message 18: by Mike (new)

Mike | 0 comments Is anyone still reading? Should we move on?!


message 19: by Jane (new)

Jane Gregga | 4 comments I finally finished this book Saturday. I found it to be very difficult reading, honestly. I worked on it off and on to get through it. It felt like a great accomplishment to finish. Now I need to give my brain a vacation and read some lighter books before I dive back into another history!


message 20: by Mike (new)

Mike | 0 comments Jane wrote: "I finally finished this book Saturday. I found it to be very difficult reading, honestly. I worked on it off and on to get through it. It felt like a great accomplishment to finish. Now I need to ..."

Thanks for sharing, Jane! Could you share a bit about what you found difficult with it?


message 21: by Jane (new)

Jane Gregga | 4 comments I found the book difficult in several ways. (1) it was just so long! And the length was due more to information about the political climate and other bridge builders, etc. (2) Technically I had a hard time following the details about the bridge building process, although I think I got the main idea. (3) I loved most of the book but I got bored when the technical sections got very long. I like to finished what I start, so I pushed myself to skim through the paragraphs when I began to get bored -- and a few pages later it would recapture my interest. (4) This really is a book that could have used more pictures for the less technical among us that wanted a sense of the history. I still would recommend this book, but I'd do so with caution. It's not for the faint hearted! I've read other McCullough books and this was the most difficult for me.


message 22: by Kyle (last edited Sep 18, 2015 09:37AM) (new)

Kyle Just finished last night. I enjoyed it. I would agree that McCullough got bogged down in technical details at times - every time I had a good picture of a caisson in my mind, he said something that made me doubt my image. But that's not really his forte, and at any rate it don't think it detracted too much. His research was obviously extensive and he renders it into a relatable story as few can.

It was unexpected to me that the book included so many side stories - Tweed, Eads, politics, etc. I found them interesting though, so I don't hate him for it. The period from the late 19th century up until T. Roosevelt's presidency is a bit of a blind spot for me, so I appreciated the background. But, I could see how someone who already knows the period well would find it excessive.


message 23: by Kyle (last edited Sep 18, 2015 09:36AM) (new)

Kyle By the way, I'm not sure that we were meant to see John Roebling as an unmitigated great man. It seems to me that he was presented in a more or less matter of fact manner. Of course, the book is about the bridge so we get a lot of material about his education, professional achievements, etc. But I don't think McCullough tried to hide the facts that he was a bad father and also basically caused his own death by putting his faith in quackery rather rather than accepted medical practice. It's all there in the text, after all.

I could see an argument that we could do with more on John's personal life and less of the side-stories later in the book. But as a matter of personal taste, I guess I just feel like that would have taken us further away from the story of the bridge.


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