Seven Wonders

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I’ve had this book sitting around on my desk for weeks now, awaiting an entry into my database, and so inspired by Dave’s recent post, here’s a small book review. You would think that after the fluff of “Almost French” last month, that it would be time for me to get my teeth into something a little more literary; serious even. Alas, the copy of Ulysses that Kim got me for Christmas remained on the shelf (it’s keeping my other books nice and flat) and I launched into A PULPY-LITTLE-SOMETHING I was given by Jodie and Graeme for my birthday. I’ve been in a bit of reading funk this year really, only averaging about 2 a month, and the seven-stories-in-a-single-book format was what I needed to sustain interest. It really was an inspired choice of a present from Graeme, because it appealed to my inner-non-computer nerd side, and to my slowly growing interest in history. The first chapter entitled “The Great Eastern” was mysterious. Who would know that was the name of an incredibly expensive ship, originally designed to ferry cargo on lucrative trips to Australia in the industrial age? Other chapters covered the building of the Brooklyn Bridge, the near-removal of cholera in inner London with the building of the first sewers and the race to build a transcontinental railway across the U.S.A. Each of the seven subjects warrant a book of their own, so things felt abridged and were given a good guy, bad guy bias in a lot of cases. The most startling thing was the magnitude of the loss of lives in completing these grand infrastructure projects. All of them seemed to cause the death or near-death of the chief engineers or project visionaries from exhaustion and overwork. In many cases, the trying conditions brought about the discovery of new cures for diseases or afflications – “the bends” being caused by working deep underwater for the Brooklyn Bridge project, or that pools of stagnant water were allowing insects to breed and killing workers on the Panama Canal with Yellow Fever. It was quite a good read, and I wish I’d watched the ABC series which accompanied it’s launch. I find it hard to believe I drove over the Hoover Dam in 1998 and didn’t bother to stop and go through the museum (hey, I took a photo instead – I just can’t find it right now!). If I had known that Carbon Monoxide had killed so many workers digging dam tunnels, I might have been more morbidly interested at the time.