• Conquering Gotham

  • The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels
  • By: Jill Jonnes
  • Narrated by: David Drummond
  • Length: 11 hrs and 28 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.2 out of 5 stars (151 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

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 mightiest railroad against the corruption of Tammany Hall, the unruly forces of nature, and the machinations of labor agitators.

In 1901, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alexander Cassatt, determined that it was technically feasible to build a system of tunnels connecting Manhattan to New Jersey and Long Island. Confronted by payoff-hungry politicians, brutal underground working conditions, and disastrous blowouts and explosions, it would take him nearly a decade to make Penn Station and its tunnels a reality.

©2007 Jill Jonnes (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.

Critic Reviews

"An exemplary construction epic." ( Booklist)
"An important addition to the popular literature of...New York." ( Publishers Weekly)

What listeners say about Conquering Gotham

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A good tale of the times

Being a fan of history and railroading, I chose this book on a whim because Audible doesn't have an enormous choice of books which cover both of those subject fields simultaneously: Beggars can't be choosers. Nonetheless... I got lucky. The writer tells a story that is informative and interesting. It is entertaining and educational. The descriptions of political and industrial scandal and achievement will cause you to draw comparisons between Andrew Carnegie and Bill Gates. Between Boss Tweed and Huey Long. Between Google and the PRR. The French have a phrase: "Plus ca change, plus c'est pareil" (The more things change, the more they stay the same).

This book describes the political and business atmosphere of the early 1900s in New York, and what it took physically, monetarily, politically, and socially, to build tunnels under New York's rivers that would allow the PRR's trains to come straight into Manhattan instead of having the passengers debark from their trains in New Jersey to take the ferry across. The entire exercise was a turning point in New York's coming of age in being the major metropolis of the United States and a global force to be reckoned with. The narrator blends into the background for the most part, leaving the story to tell itself. When you listen to a story and don't hear the telling, you know that it was well written, and that the story teller treated the material as superior to his or her ego.

There are some books that you will read (or listen to) many times because you like the tale, or the author, or because you want to pick up on the little bits that you missed the last time. I won't listen to this book a dozen times, but I will listen to it three or four more times because the tale is good. It speaks of courage and conviction and crime and corruption. The good people are inspiring and the sociopaths will make you wonder why we still have people like the Ken Lays and Jack Abramoffs of the world.

20 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Business history

This was a good book, and it did make me feel better that politicians are probably a little better now than they were then. Only criticism is that I doubt Cassatt was the saint she makes him out to be. You don't rise to that level by being a 'nice guy' even if you're very honest and forthright, and have the best of intentions.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Everything but the pictures

I have been listening to books about the history of NYC and this was a great addition. The story is engaging and it was interesting to learn how a railroad centered in Philadelphia could have such an impact on Manhattan, but maybe not as much as it would have liked. I do wish the narrator had done a bit more homework on pronunciation of place names like Haverford and Bala Cynwyd. As a native of that area, I found the mispronunciations jarring. A very small complaint.

4 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent book

It was filled with information about NYC in that era. It gave proper context to subject. And Well narrated too.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

A Project Greater than the Technology of its Day

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I would recommend this audiobook to a friend because of the story. Even though we know that New York Penn Station was built and the tunnels were completed, hearing the amazing feats of engineering that needed to be accomplished and fact that they did not completely understand all that they were doing makes for an engaging story. And then there is the political corruption in New York at the time and how the Pennsylvania Rail Road refused to do anything underhanded to build these projects. It is surprising how much depended on luck and determination.

Have you listened to any of David Drummond’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This is the first performance that I have heard of David Drummond's. He was an exceptional reader.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great for railroad or NYC historians

Excellent snapshot of 1900 business circles. Never could such a feat be accomplished today with all the red tape that surrounds this kind of endeavor. Recommended for any historian of industry, business, railroads, and/or New York City.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant

An absolutely wonderful history book. A compelling tale brought to life by an excellent author and an excellent reader. Highly recommend for anyone who likes history, trains, New York City, or stories set in the early-20th century.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Well told story. Engaging and a bit suspenseful

I was as really surprised about this piece of American history and technology. It was even a little suspenseful. Not knowing anything about this I was surprised and emotional at the ending. This a good read and/listen.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars

Abolutely Boring

I try to never stop listening to a book once I have started it and this book challenged me tremendously to try and keep listening - it was boring almost beyond belief. There was little interesting information revealed. Most of the book was spent asking the question, 'will the tunnels be built?' and, of course, we all know that there are tunnels, so obviously the tunnels were built. The narrator was boring as well (even more boring than the material). This book reads only marginally better than a high school book report. Avoid this book.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Story of making America Great

If you could sum up Conquering Gotham in three words, what would they be?

Fine saga of human endurance against forces of nature.

What did you like best about this story?

The foresight and perseverance of PRR President Alexander Cassatt and his great railway against all odds to provide a safe and efficient link to New York with the rest of the continent.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The shame and greed of Irving M. Felt with which he destroyed the architectural masterpiece of the old Penn Station and the inability of the New York City to prevent it.

Any additional comments?

This a very fine book that will link all Americans to their past glory and will inspire them add to it.