Chief Engineer: Washington Roebling, The Man Who Built the Brooklyn Bridge

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Bloomsbury Publishing USA, Jun 27, 2017 - Biography & Autobiography - 364 pages

The first full biography of a crucial figure in the American story--Washington Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge.

"I know that nothing can be done perfectly at the first trial; I also know that each day brings its little quota of experiences, which with honest intentions, will lead to perfection after a while." --Washington Roebling

His father conceived of the Brooklyn Bridge, but after John Roebling's sudden death, Washington Roebling built what has become one of American's most iconic structures--as much a part of New York as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Yet, as recognizable as the bridge is, its builder is too often forgotten--and his life is of interest far beyond his chosen field. It is the story of immigrants, of the frontier, of the greatest crisis in American history, and of the making of the modern world.

Forty years after the publication of The Great Bridge, David McCullough's classic chronicle of how the East River was spanned, Erica Wagner has written a fascinating biography of one of America's most distinguished engineers, a man whose long life was a model of courage in the face of extraordinary adversity. Chief Engineer is enriched by Roebling's own eloquent voice, unveiled in his recently-discovered memoir that was previously thought lost to history.

The memoir reveals that his father, John-a renowned engineer who made his life in America after humble beginnings in Germany-was a tyrannical presence in Washington's life, so his own adoption of that career was hard won. A young man when the Civil War broke out, Washington joined the Union Army, building bridges that carried soldiers across rivers and seeing action in many pivotal battles, from Antietam to Gettysburg-aspects of his life never before fully brought to light. Safely returned, he married the remarkable Emily Warren Roebling, who would play a crucial role in the construction of the unprecedented Brooklyn Bridge. It would be Washington Roebling's grandest achievement-but by no means the only one.

Elegantly written with a compelling narrative sweep, Chief Engineer will introduce Washington Roebling and his era to a new generation of readers.



1 No one ever does just the right thing in great emergencies
2 The finest place in the world
3 Something of the tiger in him
4 I was not a chip off the old block
5 It is curious how persons lose their heads in times of excitement
6 The urgency of the moment overpowers everything
7 I am very much of the opinion that she has captured your brother Washys heart at last
8 All beginnings are difficult but dont give up
14 She goes everywhere and sees everything
15 The image of his wife floats before him
16 You cant desert your job
17 Time age cures all this
Cold Spring

9 I will have to go to work at something
10 Good enough to found upon
11 I have been quite sick for some days
12 Now is the time to build the Bridge
13 Trust me
A Note on the Author
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About the author (2017)

American writer and critic Erica Wagner was the literary editor of the London Times for seventeen years and is now a contributing writer for the New Statesman and consulting literary editor for Harper's Bazaar. Her work has appeared in the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, and the New York Times, among others. She is the author of Ariel's Gift, Seizure, and the short story collection Gravity; she is the editor of First Light: A Celebration of Alan Garner. She was the recipient of the Eccles British Library Writer's Award in 2014, and she is a lecturer in creative writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. She lives in London with her husband and son.

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