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Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Engineering Knight-Errant Paperback – 27 Oct 2003


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Paperback, 27 Oct 2003
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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: John Murray; New edition edition (27 Oct. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0719557488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0719557484
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 14 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 455,138 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'The Satanic Verses of the railway buff's world' (The Spectator)

'A scintillating biography' (Daily Mail)

'Darwin told us where we came from, but it was Brunel who took us where we wanted to go' (Jeremy Clarkson on BBC TV's Great Britons)

'Brunel built modern Britain and Britain built the world, which means Brunel built the world' (Jeremy Clarkson on BBC TV'S Great Britons)

'Scores over other biographies by pointing up Brunel's dark side, his self-destructiveness andranoia' (Daily Telegraph)

From the Publisher

Brunel amazed us all by very nearly being named outright winner on BBC's Great Britons. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Murray on 7 Oct. 1999
Format: Paperback
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found it well written and informative. The account of Brunel's life is mostly chronological, except where chapters are devoted to big projects, such as the building of the SS Great Eastern. It is clear that the author has a great respect for this enormously talented and gifted engineer. However, Vaughan does not flinch from showing Brunel's darker character traits but sometimes I feel these are imposed too strongly. I often got the impression that all fault seemed to lie on Isambard's side, whereas the other participants were portrayed as intimidated, unresponding victims. In fairness Vaughan does point out that in his researches he found many letters written by Brunel but very few letters that were received by him, thus the author had to give the other side a benefit of doubt. It is also acknowledged that towards the end of his life Brunel was very ill and still taking on enormous workloads that could not possibly have helped his temperament. IKB's many engineering achievements are documented but there is little technical detail, as one would expect with a book that is dedicated to Isambard's character and the forces that drove him. The most pleasant aspect of reading this biography was that a man who has been a hero of mine for many years still remained a hero at the close of the final chapter. In conclusion a worthy and balanced testament to the life of a great man and a book I would not hesitate to recommend.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Alec Cawley on 16 Oct. 2004
Format: Paperback
The writer opens the book by explaining that it was written as a counterbalance to the excessively sycophantic biography by Rolt, and it should be read in that light. Where Rolt can see no wrong in Brunel, Vaughan spends much time on his dark side - at times bullying, hypocritical, verging on the dishonourable in his dealings with subcontractors. But I think he paints too dark a picture - if Brunel were as bad as painted, no-one would have dealt with him more than once, which they obviously did. Particularly, John Scott Russell would have been a complete idiot to keep dealing with Brunel - which he obviously was not.
Having made my major criticism, the book is well written and full of facinating engineering detail, much new to me. The Brunel it portrays is, to me, a more believable human being than that portrayed in the Rolt biograpy. To get the rounded picture, you would need to read both. If you are reading only one, I would recommend this one unless you are after a sugar-coated feelgood biography.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A. Powell on 23 Feb. 2005
Format: Paperback
I have always been in great admoration of the character of Brunel and I was very dissapointed after reading this book. Perhaps my aspirations of his character were far in excess of the reality of his life but I can't help but feel that he has been sold short here. As the other reviewer points this is a rebuttle of the Rolt biography, but what I wanted to know was why this man still captures our imagination even now in the twenty first centuary rather than how another author got it wrong. Vaughan does capture all the events of his life but what the book lacks is coherance and sparkle. I still believe that Brunel was a great man - but by his achievements that still stand today and not from what I have read of him in this book
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Brown on 27 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
Vaughan's main purpose is to "correct" the rosy picture of Brunel painted by Rolt - accordingly, he seems to take a delight in dwelling on the dark side. Of course Brunel had faults and no doubt treated some contractors and others badly, but this account always seems to err on the side of the other party in any dispute. To me, this makes the book read more like the modern type of "hostile" biography than a fair analysis, even though Vaughan admires Brunel's work. I'd recommend Angus Buchanan's book instead for a fairer approach to the same information.
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