The name Washington Roebling seldom crosses the minds of those who cross the Brooklyn Bridge. Wagner frames the Chief Engineer's monumental accomplishment within the context of horrid abuse by his brilliant, tyrannical father, four years of battle in the Civil War, and his own unfailing intelligence, integrity, and often sardonic wit.— Mike Hare
“A welcome tribute to the persistence, precision and humanity of Washington Roebling and a love-song for the mighty New York bridge he built.” - The Wall Street Journal
Chief Engineer is the first full biography of a crucial figure in the American story--Washington Roebling, builder of the Brooklyn Bridge. One of America's most iconic and recognizable structures, the Brooklyn Bridge is as much a part of New York as the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. Yet its distinguished builder is too often forgotten--and his life is of interest far beyond his chosen field. It is the story of immigrants, the frontier, the Civil War, the making of the modern world, and a man whose life modeled courage in the face of extreme adversity.
Chief Engineer is enriched by Roebling's own eloquent voice, unveiled in his recently discovered memoir, previously thought lost to history. The memoir reveals that his father, John-a renowned engineer who came to America after humble beginnings in Germany-was a tyrannical presence in Roebling's life. It also documents Roebling's time as a young man in the Union Army, where he built bridges to carry soldiers across rivers and fought in pivotal battles from Antietam to Gettysburg. He then married the remarkable Emily Warren Roebling, who played a crucial role in the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Roebling's grandest achievement-but by no means the only one.
Elegantly written with a compelling narrative sweep, Chief Engineer introduces Washington Roebling and his era to a new generation of readers.
“A masterful psychological study about duty and drive.” —The Economist, "Books of the Year 2017"
“Compelling and elegant . . . [an] exploration of the life of Washington Roebling, the engineer whose energy and ideas got the Brooklyn Bridge built . . . the story not just of two engineers, father and son, but also of a son who survived treatment that, as he wrote in a private memoir at the end of the 19th century, could have led to his death . . . [a] powerful book.” —The Guardian
“Ms. Wagner's writing is graceful, even evocative, conveying a mellow admiration of Washington Roebling that suits the man.” —Wall Street Journal
“A masterful work of research, revelation and gripping narrative. It brings to pulsating life 19th-century New York and New Jersey and manages to be moving, too.” —New Statesman, "Books of the Year"
“The impressive career of [Washington Roebling] is well told in Erica Wagner's captivating new book.” —New York Post
“[An] engaging new biography . . . [a] detailed portrait of a sensitive and tormented man.” —New York Times Book Review
“In this engrossing biography. . . Wagner writes detailed, lucid descriptions of the technological advances that made the bridge possible. . . . Wagner grounds her fine study of the human side of industrial progress in patient devotion to science and craft.” —Publishers Weekly
“With contemporary notes, clippings, and letters, too, [Chief Engineer] makes a fascinating tale . . . A sturdy, illuminating biography.” —Kirkus Reviews
“A well-judged and well-written portrait.” —Booklist
“As we learn from Chief Engineer, Erica Wagner's highly original biography of Washington Roebling, the little-remembered and rather strange man who built it, the feat of raising such a bridge took over a dozen years of his life--and nearly killed him . . . Chief Engineer also sheds light on matters beyond engineering . . . Where she unquestionably succeeds is in bringing to life, and very probably bringing to the public's attention for the first time in generations, the name--and rather peculiar life--of a man who deserves his place on the top tier of the pantheon of engineers. ****” —The Sunday Telegraph
“Chief Engineer was made possible by the discovery of an unpublished memoir at Rutgers University and Wagner has mined it well. She tells the story with the thoroughness of Roebling's calculations: the book is as robust in structure and fine in detail as the bridge itself and, like its subject, unlikely to be bettered. It is immaculately researched, meticulously written but exciting and evocative too.” —Spectator
“In her bravura book about its creation . . . The magnificent book by Wagner, an NS contributing writer, focuses on the two men responsible for building the edifice: John A Roebling and his patriotically named son Washington.” —New Statesman
“Powerful.” —The Observer
“Warm, meticulous . . . Chief Engineer makes a solid case for Washington as a great American hero.” —Times Literary Supplement
“Erica Wagner honours Washington with a fine, sympathetic biography.” —Literary Review