Just the thing for the budding entrepreneur, and a pleasure for general readers as well.




An intriguing tale of inventors, tycoons, and an engineering feat that changed the course of economic history.

One of those adept, impressively learned, sometimes impractical 19th-century woodshed thinkers and tinkers, Cyrus Field knew only a little of the hard science behind stringing a submarine telegraph cable that would link the financial markets of London and New York. And good thing, too, writes business historian Gordon (The Great Game, 1999, etc.): if he had, “he might well have dismissed the entire notion as impossibly fanciful.” Field was not the first to conceive such a venture, the author notes; as early as 1850, an English engineer and a Canadian bishop had independently proposed that a telegraph line be strung between Newfoundland and Ireland, the landmasses flanking the shortest crossing of the North Atlantic. But Field was the first to act on the idea, writing to Samuel Morse to enlist his support and finding another ally in the great but largely unsung naval surveyor and architect Matthew Fontaine Maury. In 1854, Field, philanthropist Peter Cooper, and other partners set about raising $1.5 million for the venture; that turned out to be nowhere near sufficient, even though it was a huge sum for the time (by way of comparison, Gordon notes that the entire annual federal budget in that year was $58 million). Drawing on scientific discoveries and technological innovations by the likes of Michael Faraday and Werner von Siemens, Field and company eventually managed to make the transatlantic cable a reality, and even if its early iterations turned out to be duds, their work did in fact revolutionize communications and international finance and “laid down the foundation of what would become, in little over a century, a global village,” as Gordon very capably shows.

Just the thing for the budding entrepreneur, and a pleasure for general readers as well.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-8027-1364-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2002

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It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.


Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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