Review of "Golden Gate," by Kevin Starr

Sunday, August 15, 2010


The Life and Times of America's Greatest Bridge

By Kevin Starr. Bloomsbury. 215 pp. $23

Its towers are bigger, badder and bolder than the Washington Monument or the Statue of Liberty, and as far as Kevin Starr is concerned, the Golden Gate Bridge is America's premier "triumph of engineering" and a "work of art." In his new book, Starr eloquently retraces this industrial achievement from planning and construction up to the present day with its $6-and-up tolls.

Completed in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge is now crossed by more than 40 million vehicles and 10 million pedestrians a year. The single-span suspension bridge extends 4,200 feet (the second longest, by a mere 60 feet, in the United States behind the Verrazano-Narrows bridge in New York); its towers climb 746 feet in the air (taller than two Lady Libertys); and its cables are wound with more than 80,000 miles of wire capable of enduring gale-force winds and even earthquakes.

But this book is about more than just statistics. He tells the story behind each of the bridge's masterminds -- the bankers, builders, egos and engineers -- and also devotes a whole chapter to a tragic side of the bridge's history as a frequent site of Bay area suicides.

Starr writes adoringly about the bridge and all its wonderment, including the distinctive paint scheme. "International Orange" started out as the tint of the anti-corroding primer that covered the steel to shield it from the salty Pacific breeze during construction; but the color was so compatible with the golden gate motif that it was retained and is now an indispensable part of the bridge's look.

-- T. Rees-Shapiro

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