DREAMS OF IRON AND STEEL: Seven Wonders of the Nineteenth Century, from the Building of the London Sewers to the Panama Canal

Deborah Cadbury, Author . Fourth Estate $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-00-716306-9

British historian and Emmy Award–winning BBC producer Cadbury (The Last King of France, etc.) chronicles seven great engineering feats of the 19th and early 20th centuries: the Great Eastern, the largest ocean-going vessel of the mid-19th century; the London sewer system; the U.S. transcontinental railroad; the Brooklyn Bridge; the Panama Canal; the Hoover Dam; and, least known, Scotland's Bell Rock Lighthouse. Cadbury pays special attention to the visionary, sometimes almost delusional men who were the human catalysts for these breakthrough accomplishments. Her choices are good ones, as the fascinating personalities at the center of these endeavors include corrupt manipulators, selfless crusaders and arrogant self-promoters, all of whom share a preternatural single-mindedness, which is at the core of their successes. Cadbury also describes the human costs that success required, often of the founders of these enterprises and invariably of those who moved the steel, dug the holes and poured the concrete. The cumulative loss of lives on these projects was in the thousands, and Cadbury is unsparing in her descriptions of the ways death occurred. Men were boiled alive in a boiler malfunction on the Great Eastern ; blown up, scalped or mutilated while working on the transcontinental railroad; and entombed in concrete while building Hoover Dam. But the book is not a social commentary about the reckless disregard of 19th-century industrialists; it is, rather, dedicated to the human ingenuity displayed in these battles with a stubborn and capricious natural world. Readers who enjoyed the challenge of building the 1893 World's Fair in The Devil and the White City will find much to revel in here. (Jan. 9)

Reviewed on: 12/15/2003
Release date: 01/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-00-716307-6
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