Great Projects: The Epic Story of the Building of America, from the Taming of the Mississippi to the Invention of the Internet

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9780743210645: Great Projects: The Epic Story of the Building of America, from the Taming of the Mississippi to the Invention of the Internet

A fascinating portrait of America's greatest engineering feats portrays the nation's greatest engineered marvels, from building the George Washington Bridge to controlling the flow of the Mississippi River.

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Review:

What is it, James Tobin asks, that has driven Americans to so thoroughly remake their country generation after generation, made them so avid to undertake massive works of public engineering and so capable at that work?

His case studies, which take in such things as the decades-long struggle to control the flow of the Mississippi River, the construction of New York's George Washington Bridge, and even the birth of the Internet, offer many answers. One factor, he answers, is the widespread belief in special providence, in the possibilities of progress and in the wisdom of "turning the wilderness to their advantage," of taming nature, in the notion that "good things should be not only for elites but for everybody." Such ideals, he suggests, underlay Thomas Edison's drive to master electricity and make it readily available to all citizens--though, in an interesting note, Tobin tells us that early utility owners were less democratically minded, making electricity available "only to the comfortable classes" for many years. They motivated the dam builders who harnessed the power of the Colorado and Tennessee rivers, the hydrologists who labored to provide clean drinking water for New York and other great cities, the engineers who designed and built the interstate highway system.

Tobin's handsomely illustrated, engrossing text examines these and other engineering accomplishments, documenting triumphs and not a few tragedies. Admirers of books such as Henry Petroski's Remaking the World, Samuel C. Florman's The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, and John Lienhard's The Engines of Our Ingenuity will want to add this to their shelves. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

James Tobin won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his first book, Ernie Pyle's War, and the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for his forthcoming biography of the Wright Brothers. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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James Tobin
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