The sins of the father dominate Erica Wagner’s paean to the man behind one of America’s most celebrated landmarks
The United States, a German ambassador to London once told me with half a smile, should really be known as “Neues Deutschland”. German migrants gave the country the hot dog, the hamburger and the Trump family. As Erica Wagner sets out in this compelling and elegant book, their country also sent over the family that built the most striking structure to rise in New York before the skyscraper.
German manners and German culture are central to Wagner’s exploration of the life of Washington Roebling, the engineer whose energy and ideas got the Brooklyn Bridge built. He did not learn to speak English until after his 10th birthday and he often worked through his calculations in his mother tongue. He shared an alternative American identity to the Anglophone one that smothered everything after the US went to war with Germany in 1917.