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Tom Paine's Iron Bridge : Building a United States
by Edward G. Gray


Overview -

In a letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams judged the author of Common Sense as having a better hand at pulling down than building. Adams s dismissive remark has helped shape the prevailing view of Tom Paine ever since. But, as Edward G.  Read more...


 
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More About Tom Paine's Iron Bridge by Edward G. Gray
 
 
 
Overview

In a letter to his wife Abigail, John Adams judged the author of Common Sense as having a better hand at pulling down than building. Adams s dismissive remark has helped shape the prevailing view of Tom Paine ever since. But, as Edward G. Gray shows in this fresh, illuminating work, Paine was a builder. He had a clear vision of success for his adopted country. It was embodied in an architectural project that he spent a decade planning: an iron bridge to span the Schuylkill River at Philadelphia.

When Paine arrived in Philadelphia from England in 1774, the city was thriving as America s largest port. But the seasonal dangers of the rivers dividing the region were becoming an obstacle to the city s continued growth. Philadelphia needed a practical connection between the rich grain of Pennsylvania s backcountry farms and its port on the Delaware. The iron bridge was Paine s solution.

The bridge was part of Paine s answer to the central political challenge of the new nation: how to sustain a republic as large and as geographically fragmented as the United States. The iron construction was Paine s brilliant response to the age-old challenge of bridge technology: how to build a structure strong enough to withstand the constant battering of water, ice, and wind.

The convergence of political and technological design in Paine s plan was Enlightenment genius. And Paine drew other giants of the period as patrons: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and for a time his great ideological opponent, Edmund Burke. Paine s dream ultimately was a casualty of the vicious political crosscurrents of revolution and the American penchant for bridges of cheap, plentiful wood. But his innovative iron design became the model for bridge construction in Britain as it led the world into the industrial revolution.

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Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780393241785
  • ISBN-10: 0393241785
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
  • Publish Date: April 2016
  • Page Count: 256


Related Categories

Books > History > United States - Revolutionary War
Books > History > United States - State & Local - Middle Atlantic
Books > Technology > Civil - Bridges

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2016-01-04
  • Reviewer: Staff

Many Americans think of Tom Paine as a great champion of independence from Britain, and as a skilled firebrand. Gray (Colonial America: A History in Documents), professor of history at Florida State University, brings the radical pamphleteer alive as an architect of iron bridges. He makes a good case that Paine’s hopes for the infant United States went beyond its political independence. Wanting also to help unite the country, Paine applied his amateur design skills to the idea of physically knitting together the American territory. Understanding that the nation’s many rivers were obstacles to commerce as well as avenues of transportation, he saw the need to bridge them. Unfortunately, hard luck, ideological battles, difficulties with public authorities (in the U.S., Britain, and France), and an inveterate penury thwarted Paine’s schemes. But as he’d proved in his political writings, his visions were sound even if his execution of them was not. Others in the U.S. and elsewhere eventually erected iron bridges, some at least modestly influenced by his designs and models. Gray’s prose is lively; the solid tale he tells may be of no major significance to a broader historical understanding, but it adds to the body of knowledge about a passionate man and the tumultuous era in which he lived. Illus. (Apr.)

 
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