The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by David McCullough

David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge is a Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction book that tells the story of the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, one of the most iconic and technologically innovative engineering feats of the 19th century.


The book begins with the story of John Augustus Roebling, a German immigrant engineer who had a vision of building a bridge across the East River to connect the cities of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Roebling had already designed and built several successful suspension bridges, but the Brooklyn Bridge would be his most ambitious project yet.

In 1869, Roebling began surveying the East River and planning the bridge. However, just a few months into the project, he was injured in an accident, and his foot had to be amputated. Roebling was devastated, but he refused to give up on his dream. He turned over the day-to-day management of the project to his son, Washington, but he continued to oversee the overall design and construction from his bed.

Washington Roebling was a brilliant engineer in his own right, and he quickly proved himself to be a capable leader. However, he soon faced his own challenges. In 1870, a worker was killed in an accident on the bridge, and Washington was blamed. He was suspended from the project and put on trial for manslaughter. However, he was eventually acquitted, and he was able to return to work.

In the meantime, construction on the bridge continued. However, the project was plagued by delays and setbacks. Workers had to contend with dangerous working conditions, including decompression sickness (also known as “the bends”) and accidents. In addition, the project was constantly over budget, and Roebling had to constantly battle with corrupt politicians and greedy contractors.

Despite all of the challenges, Roebling and his team persevered. In 1876, the Brooklyn Bridge was finally completed. It was the longest suspension bridge in the world, and it was a marvel of engineering. The bridge was also a symbol of the American spirit and the nation’s growing power and prosperity.

McCullough’s book is a fascinating and inspiring account of the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. He tells the story in a vivid and engaging way, and he brings to life the many people who played a role in the project, from the engineers and workers to the politicians and financiers.

Concise Summary of the Bridge’s Construction

The construction of the Brooklyn Bridge began in 1870 and was completed in 1883. The bridge is a hybrid cable-stayed/suspension bridge with a main span of 1,595.5 feet (486.6 m). The two towers that support the main span are made of limestone and granite and are each 278 feet (84.7 m) tall.

The bridge’s deck is made of wood and is supported by a series of steel cables. The cables are made up of thousands of individual steel wires, which were spun together on the Brooklyn and Manhattan shores of the river. The cables were then strung across the river and attached to the towers.

The construction of the bridge was a dangerous and challenging undertaking. Workers had to contend with decompression sickness, accidents, and harsh weather conditions. However, the workers persevered, and the bridge was finally completed in 1883.

The Brooklyn Bridge’s Legacy

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most iconic landmarks in the world and is a symbol of New York City and the American spirit. The bridge is also a testament to the engineering genius of John Augustus Roebling and his son, Washington.

The Brooklyn Bridge is still in use today, and it carries over 150,000 vehicles and pedestrians each day. The bridge is also a popular tourist destination, offering stunning views of New York City.


David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of New York City, the history of engineering, or the American Dream. It is a story of vision, determination, and perseverance, and it is a testament to the human spirit’s ability to overcome even the most daunting challenges.