In design and execution, every bit as worthy of the bridge it celebrates.



By California’s foremost historian, a paean to perhaps “the most beautiful bridge ever built.”

Upon its completion in 1937, San Francisco’s Golden Gate immediately took its place among the world’s greatest engineering and architectural feats. Its distinctive Art Deco towers, landscape-friendly International Orange and dramatic setting combined for a thrilling picture, perfectly symbolizing America’s Far West regional capital. The bridge had many godfathers, most prominently the city engineer who first called for its construction, the local chieftain who cleared the political path, the progressive banker who financed it and especially Joseph Strauss, the engineer/entrepreneur whose own design—“an upside-down rat trap,” said one opponent—gave way to the plan created by the brilliant team of consulting engineers, designers and architects he assembled. Starr (History/Univ. of Southern California; Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-63, 2009, etc.) discusses these and many other players, but don’t look here for the thorough detail or human drama captured so memorably in David McCullough’s The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge (1972). Instead, Starr sets a more delicate task, a jeweler’s assessment of the Brooklyn Bridge’s west coast rival. He neatly appraises the Golden Gate’s every facet, attempting to judge its qualities and to convey its essence, its singular “bridgeness.” The author tours the spectacular geography and recounts the history of its site, reflects on the bridge as an icon, reconstructs the vision that prompted its construction, details the political and financial obstacles overcome by its boosters, explains its design and follows the course of its building, remarks upon its central importance, functional and aesthetic, to the city, invokes the art it has inspired and muses upon the bridge’s dramatic allure for those contemplating suicide—all in remarkably few pages. If occasional passages feel hurried, few essentials feel left out, and Starr’s lyrical prose more than compensates for whatever’s missing in this appreciation of the “global icon” he so clearly loves.

In design and execution, every bit as worthy of the bridge it celebrates.

Pub Date: July 6, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-59691-534-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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