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Dreams of Iron and Steel: Seven Wonders of the Nineteenth Century, from the Building of the London Sewers to the Panama Canal (P.S.) Paperback – 4 Jan 2005

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate; Reprint edition (4 Jan. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000716307X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007163076
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,359,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

About the Author

Deborah Cadbury is the award-winning TV science producer for the BBC, including Horizon for which she won an Emmy . She is also the highly-acclaimed author of ‘The Seven Wonders of the Industrial World’, ‘The Feminisation of Nature’, ‘The Dinosaur Hunters’, ‘The Lost King of France’ and ‘Space Race’.

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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By C. Marriott on 30 April 2007
Format: Paperback
If you have an interest in the engineering achievements of the great pioneers that shaped our knowledge and society. Then this book is a must. It reads very well and includes many facts and details. I was left wanting more.
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Amazon.com: 9 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Exceptional story telling of 7 great wonders by one of the best historians around 28 Sept. 2005
By A. Woodley - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
If you haven't discovered Deborah Cadbury yet then she is one of the best and sharpest writers around. Her text is spare, her research impeccable, and her ability to draw out threads without resorting to tabloid sensationalism makes for satisfying reading. In this, her third book, Cadbury covers the seven wonders of the industrial world, putting the feats, their makers, and the events into context of the time and what they have meant in history.

This is the GREAT industrial revolution. The 7 wonders are The Great Eastern (the largest boat of its time a double hulled steel boat by Brunel), The Bell Rock Lighthouse, the Brooklyn Bridge, The London Sewers, The Transcontinental Railroad, The Panama Canal and the Hoover Dam.

What I love about Cadbury is that she has not only picked 7 extremely diverse items, (dams, lighthouses, sewers, railroads, bridges, canals, and boats) but she manages to put them into the context of the history of that particular engineering feat, but also in context to the events of their own time.

Her research takes her right into the buidling as well - for instance with the building of the Great Eastern she talks about the need for large numbers of young boys who were employed inside the boat, working in appalling hot and cramped conditions and juggling white hot rivets. There were dreadful accidents but a steady supply of labour meant that new workers were never a problem. The sheer volume of workers however never even made it into the day book though, they were never considered important enough.

She relates this sheer volume of workers back to all these structures. They were all built through the enormous supply of labour available.

This does not denigrate the sheer feats of engineering which these men needed to create these structures. No one thought the Great Eastern would be able to sail. The London Sewers were built in competition with the Underground in London, The Transcontinental Railroad needed to have all the items shipped around by sea via the Cape to get to the WEstern Side of America. As an aside I would really recommend reading Laura INgalls Wilder's book on the Banks of Silver Lake, if you are interested in the Transcontinental as Wilder's father worked for a time on the Railroad and she describes the working day in excellent detail including how they 'flattened' out the prairies by hand.

I cannot emphasise enough how great the detail is in the book - for instance, the work on the Brooklyn Bridge laying the foundations lays bare the horrendous circumstances in which men worked, in 80 degree heat at the bottom of the river. Explosions at the edge of the caissons often resulted in blow outs of compressed air which would send a 'fury of debris and water" in a column as much as 500 feet in the air.

I saw the television series on this book but was very disappointed. It was reenactments and it just didn't bring the depth of detail which is in this book.

This is one of the best reads this year. I would strongly recommend it to anyone. Deborah Cadbury's books are excellent and she is on my must buy list.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Good Story Telling 14 Feb. 2006
By Rodney J. Szasz - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I bought this book because I thought the format and subject nature were most suitable for a long plane ride back to Japan: Seven Chapters on the engineering marvels of the modern world. Each different with its own challenges and particular history. The changing subject nature would keep me interested during the flight -- I was not dissapointed.

The storytelling here is first rate with a good introduction to the historical challenges and necessity of each project -- setting the story in its place as it were. Cadbury then spins anecdotes choosing what she wants and no doubt leaving out a lot of interesting and germane stuff... but it doesn't matter... the purpose of the book is to outline these great projects and, if one wants to, point one in the direction for more material related to such things as Brunel's "Great Eastern" or the Brooklyn Bridge, Hoover Dam or the Panama Canal.

The book has no pretensions to be a serious exposition of any of the projects. It is a good historical tale of each one of them with enough drama and description of the engineering difficulties and personalities to keep one's interest.

Serious Engineers may be expecting more... if so, you will need to look elsewhere. There are no sheer force equations, analysis of holding strength or geographic analysis of strata. But if there were I probably would not have bought this book.

It also fills a vital role in filling in some of our knowledge in these little known challenges that shaped our world so much... I hope I make as wise a choice of books for the next flight.
I Dream of Books Like This! 28 Dec. 2008
By Bruce Hilpert - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Since I retired four years ago I have had the time to read a LOT of books, at least a lot for me.

One of my favorite books this summer was something a little out of my usual realm - the history of technology. Deborah Cadbury, in Dreams of Iron and Steel, provides a brief, readable and captivating synopsis of the construction of what she terms the "seven wonders of the modern age."

Having seen, during my lifetime, the first space flight, the first moon walk, the development of a jet that can cross the Atlantic in four hours and the invention of the wonders of the internet, I can sometimes get jaded when viewing the technical accomplishments of the nineteenth century. However, this book stimulates the awe that is appropriate when considering engineering projects such as the Brooklyn Bridge, the Panama Canal, the Transcontinental (US) railroad, or the London sewer system.

Take, for example, the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse. Located eleven miles offshore of Scotland, Bell Rock is a reef that is exposed for only 2 hours at each low tide (twice a day for you landlubbers). In 1807, Robert Stevenson won the commission to build a 100-foot-tall lighthouse that could withstand the 60' waves that regularly lashed the outcrop and sent 70 ships to the bottom of the sea in a single storm in 1799. Many of the ships went down because their captains refused to head into a safe port because of the dangers presented by Bell Rock.

In four years, Stevenson completed the construction of the granite lighthouse without the benefit of power tools, dynamite or steam powered ships. Working during the summer season only at low tides, crews rowed to the island from a mother ship, put in their shift, and rowed away as the rising tide covered the reef. Hundreds of tons of intricately-shaped granite blocks were unloaded and hauled by mule across the outcrop and anchored into place. Against all odds, Stevenson discovered that his unfinished structure had withstood each winter's storms as he returned to the rock for the following season's construction.

Ms. Cadbury does an excellent job of building the personal drama of each of the construction projects. Her chapters are very personality-based and each of the seven chapters has a remarkable engineer or entrepreneur that brought a grand vision to life. She honed her storytelling skills as a BBC producer of documentaries, including a seven-part series on the industrial wonders of the world that led to this book.

But, Ms. Cadbury's ability to inject drama into each of these stories also belies the only weakness of the book. I found myself wanting considerably more technical information than was provided in these treatments. When an author covers both the French and American Panama Canal projects in 36 pages, we are obviously not going to get an in-depth treatment.

On balance, this book is an excellent introduction for someone like me who really had little previous knowledge or interest in topics such as the Hoover Dam or the Great Eastern steamship. It was an engaging read that I couldn't put down and the lack of in-depth information did not leave me too disappointed - I just moved on to the next exciting chapter! And, like any good non-fiction book, it whet my appetite for further research.
A delightful read that reminds us that history is about people, not machines 14 May 2007
By Allan Bedford - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I picked this book up on a whim, but I'm glad I did. The 'history' is presented in a light and easy-to-read way that makes this book fun. The stories of the individual "wonders" are presented as stand-alone chapters, so you can start with whichever one suits your fancy.

The book reminds us that history is really about people, not machines or structures. But the people who created those machines and structures tend to be fascinating. The ones detailed in this book were (almost without exception) highly-driven, obsessively focused individuals with lofty dreams they would nearly die to achieve.... and in some cases more-or-less did go that far.

If there's a downside to this book it's that the chronology of some of the events is occasionally hard to follow. The author seems to jump ahead to near the end of a project, then back the beginning. This isn't a deal breaker and once you get a handle on her style it's really not something that takes away from the fabulous (and true!) tales she tells.

On the 'worth noting' front is an extensive bibliography and a really interesting section called "P.S. Insights, Interviews and More..." You get a sort of behind-the-scenes look at the author and a bit of what went into the creation of the book. I would love to see more books include sections like this.

All-in-all a great read and highly recommended.
Gripping! Very Hard to Put Down 30 Mar. 2009
By G. Poirier - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In seven spellbinding chapters, this gifted author recounts the stories of seven of the most outstanding technological accomplishments of modern times (most of these behemoths were built in the nineteenth century). Most histories of these structures, i.e., how they were longed-for, conceived, planned and ultimately built, could likely keep any interested reader mesmerized; but the author's outstandingly riveting prose makes depositing this book almost impossible, keeping the reader breathless. The writing style is clear, friendly, authoritative, immensely accessible and above all, as already stated, absolutely gripping. This is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone who loves intense drama, high adventure, devastating tragedy and, ultimately, brilliant long-lasting success (well, long-lasting for six out of the seven cases).
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