The Great Bridge

The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge
Narrated by: Nelson Runger
Length: 27 hrs and 24 mins
Categories: History, Americas
4.5 out of 5 stars (2,094 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

This monumental book tells the enthralling story of one of the greatest accomplishments in our nation's history, the building of what was then the longest suspension bridge in the world. The Brooklyn Bridge rose out of the expansive era following the Civil War, when Americans believed all things were possible.

So daring a concept as spanning the East River to join two great cities required vision and dedication of the kind that went into building Europe's great cathedrals. During 14 years of construction, the odds against success seemed overwhelming. Thousands of people were put to work. Bodies were crushed and broken, lives lost, notorious political empires fell, and surges of public doubt constantly threatened the project. But the story of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge is not just the saga of an engineering miracle; it is a sweeping narrative of the social climate of the time, replete with heroes and rascals who helped either to construct or to exploit the great enterprise.

The Great Bridge is also the story of a remarkable family, the Roeblings, who conceived and executed the audacious engineering plan at great personal cost. Without John Roebling's vision, his son Washington's skill and courage, and Washington's wife Emily's dedication, the bridge we know and cherish would never have been built.

Like the engineering marvel it describes, The Great Bridge, republished on the 40th anniversary of its initial publication, has stood the test of time.

Please note: The Great Bridge (Unabridged) is available for just one credit until June 20, 2012, after which point it will be priced at two credits.

©2007 David McCullough (P)2012 Simon & Schuster

Critic Reviews

“The impact of the soaring structure upon the American imagination and American life has now been measured with sagacity and style by David McCullough.... The Great Bridge is a book so compelling and complete as to be a literary monument, one of the best books I have read in years. McCullough has written that sort of work which brings us to the human center of the past.” (Robert Kirsch, Los Angeles Times)
" The Great Bridge is a great book. . . . What David McCullough has written is a stupendous narrative about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, with a cast of thousands (give or take 100), whose major characters come alive on the page as authentically, as creatively, as would their fictional counterparts if one had the imagination to dream up such a yarn. Once again, truth is not only stranger than fiction but a hell of a lot more entertaining. Get your hands on The Great Bridge...This is the definitive book on the event. Do not wait for a better try: there won't be any.” (Norman Rosten, Newsday)
“David McCullough has taken a dramatic and colorful episode out of the American past and described it in such a way that he sheds fresh light on a whole era in American history.” (Bruce Catton)
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Another Outstanding McCullough

I have already listened to "Truman", "The Wright Brothers", and "The Johnstown Flood". Obviously, I am a McCullough fan. Listening to a story written by him is like sitting down with a wise old man, (I imagine my own Grandfather), saying: "Sit down with me for a while, and I'm going to tell you a story so incredible, you won't believe it's real". This is certainly true of "The Great Bridge". Who knew that the story of a bridge being built could be so fascinating? McCullough's great strength, I believe, is his ability to paint a striking portrait of people and their unique time. This book will teleport you to Brooklyn in the 1870's. The descriptions of the people, places, and events provide a striking image of America at that time, and the audacity of the people involved in such a monumental undertaking. This text provides fascinating insight into Gilded Age politics, engineering know-how, and raw human emotion; both dazzling, and painful.

Although the engineering behind the bridge is expressed in layman's terms, I found myself on Google, looking at pictures from the period and technical drawings of "the great caisson"; the engineering masterpiece that is the foundation of the bridge. This is a complex piece of structural engineering that is difficult to understand without a visual. Nevertheless, drawings are readily available online, and I recommend a listener pause the story and look at those to get a better sense of how it all comes together. It is incredible to think that work began on the bridge in 1869, and that it's foundations are so strong that it has required virtually no maintenance since then. It's unbelievable to think that the people working on the bridge could never imagine that it would someday be used by automobiles, yet it is so well built, that only minimal changes had to be made to it when it was converted from trolley use to car use. The world of 1869 is so different from ours, yet the bridge remains relatively unchanged, and will likely remain so. That is its genius, and that is what makes it a monument to American ingenuity and imagination. To listen to this book is to truly understand the scale of such an undertaking--and the obsession of one man (Washington A. Roebling)--in its creation.

A word on the narrator:
Nelson Runger reads most of McCullough's works available on Audible. I first heard him read for "Truman". Since then, I associate his voice with that of Truman's own, and to some extent, with that of McCullough himself, even though the author does narrate "The Wright Brothers", such that I know McCullough's real voice. I find Runger to be a good match for such a long listen. his voice is expressive, and he can mimic the accent of the period (1869-1926) which is slightly different from our own. Now that McCullough is getting older, his own voice is quite rough, whereas Runger's is smooth and provides emphasis where needed. He pauses when appropriate, and shifts his inflection when reading for different characters. Although a text like this does not require such radical inflection shifts as does a work of fiction with lots of dialogue and many characters, I think you will find Runger an engaging listen.

I highly recommend this text.

45 people found this helpful

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An Historian and not a Novelist

I have to disagree to most of the negative reviews from other readers that have posted on The Great Bridge. David McCullough is a historian and not a novelist. He does not write stories with happy endings with complex plots. McCullough writes American history with proven facts.

That being said, The Great Bridge is an awesome story about our engineering, infrastructure, corruption, and American pride. The book is very interesting because it really happened and the Brooklyn Bridge is still standing after 129 years.

Even Hollywood takes tribute to the Brooklyn Bridge in movies. As the world freezes, or aliens conquer the planet, the bridge still stands as a symbol of pride.

I really hope that David McCullough will write on the Hoover Dam next. There are other authors that covered this topic, but I can only imagine that they are not complete.

54 people found this helpful

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Pssst, Buddy. Wanna buy a bridge?

Any book by David McCullough lays out more material than most people want to hear. But he also tells you things you ever knew and you feel you should. Like, did you know that Brooklyn was the third largest city in the United States when this bridge was built? Or how important Brooklyn was because of it's Naval yards? Or that Brooklyn was more than a joke on radio quiz shows? And why then Yankees vs the Dodgers was such an intense rivalry?

I had read a bit about the Roebling family and that is took the entire family to get the bridge built. Yet I did not know enough to not be surprised at what I learned about other prominent characters of that time. It took a railway man to really know how important the bridge would be.

You will suffer with the Roeblings and the horrific death of the father. You will be astonished at their ignorance of the "bends." You will rejoice in their eventual triumph and gaze in awe at the opening day celebrations. At least, I did.

18 people found this helpful

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The Great engineer vs the politicians!

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

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Brooklyn Bridge, history or engineering.

What did you like best about this story?

It is a story of many hardworking people who had vision and perseverance. It was frustrating at times to listen to the book when it was describing the politicians and their obnoxious behavior. It made the chief engineer seem that much greater that he had to deal with their insulting and costly behavior. The chief engineer suffers the "bends" and long lasting consequences in which he has to direct the bridge building through letters he dictates to his wife. She is his eyes, ears, feet and takes the physical role he is unable to.
She is the heroine of the story.

What does Nelson Runger bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He has a firm fatherly voice that sounds as if he was there telling the story. He has feeling in his voice that communicates the suppressed anger of the engineer, the joy of the workers and onlookers, and the magic feeling of tying Brooklyn and New York together.
He has a tenderness when talking about the chief engineer's wife, who is essential to the story.

6 people found this helpful

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A Tour de Force of Engineering and NY Politics

It is hard to imagine that a book of this length could be written about the building of a single bridge. Indeed, 1776, McCullogh's outstanding history of the revolutionary war, is a third the length. One must conclude that McCullogh became obsessed with the bridge and the people responsible for completing one of the most unique engineering feats of the 1800's. He did exhaustive research and was the first to explore the rich archives at RPI which provide many of the details. While I wish he had spent more time on the engineering and less time on the politics, I suspect many listeners will feel quite the opposite. Regardless, this is a great historical book, and it provides more insight into life in the late 1800s than any other book I have read.

I was very sorry when this amazing story ended.

12 people found this helpful

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The Great Bridge

Parts of this book are very interesting,,,, the rest - well you have to REALLY want to understand bridge engineering and NY politics

33 people found this helpful

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Wonderful Story

What an amazing story! I recommend this to anyone interested in American history or history of science and technology. The characters and context are built in great depth and the engineering aspects are discussed carefully.

3 people found this helpful

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A must read for every New Yorker

Where does The Great Bridge rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

The book ranks up there with the top books and is very informative.

What did you like best about this story?

Detail, detail, detail...about the engineers that built the bridge, the politicians, the way of life during the 870's, etc.

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

The tragedy that surrounded the Reobling's life.

3 people found this helpful

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Very Detailed and Interesting

I really enjoyed this book. It is long, but it never bogged down. The minute details about the building of the bridge were interesting. Even detours into politics, e.g., Tammany Hall, were of interest. I particularly enjoyed the story thread about the bends and how medicine of the time approached the problem.

2 people found this helpful

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Good, but way too long

As a history major, there was much I loved about this book. That said, there were many times where I was groaning as the narrator listed yet another page or two or ten on wire specifications. Then there was the entire chapter dedicated to Emily Roebling about whom we had already learned way more than we needed to in relation to the actual subject, the Brooklyn Bridge. These are but two examples of the excess of information. It was an early book, so I will forgive the author. I have loved all the other books I've read by him.

I found the narration to be slow. Pauses were often so long that I would think I had lost my Audible connection.Upping the speed killed two birds with one stone here. I could still understand the narrator while getting through all the access information more quickly.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Tommy
  • 02-28-17

A Magnificent Epic

A magnificent and epic work, beautifully narrated.

David McCullough's canvas extends much wider than the building of the iconic bridge, although that in itself is a fascinating story.

Equally if not more fascinating are the characters of John A. Roebling and his son Washington who respectively conceived and built it, and the colourful supporting cast whom they encountered along the way.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jan
  • 01-31-15

Classic McCullough

An essential optimistic can do account of prototypical American can do attitude. Perhaps 20% too long winded, but still leaves the reader witj respecy for the acheibements of Toebæing sbd his associates

1 person found this helpful