Conquering Gotham: A Gilded Age Epic: The Construction of Penn Station and Its Tunnels

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Overview

The demolition of Penn Station in 1963 destroyed not just a soaring neoclassical edifice but also a building that commemorated one of the last century's great engineering feats?the construction of railroad tunnels into New York City. Now, in this gripping narrative, Jill Jonnes tells this fascinating story?a high-stakes drama that pitted the money and will of the nation's mightiest railroad against the corruption of Tammany Hall, the unruly forces of nature, and the machinations...
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Overview

The demolition of Penn Station in 1963 destroyed not just a soaring neoclassical edifice but also a building that commemorated one of the last century's great engineering feats—the construction of railroad tunnels into New York City. Now, in this gripping narrative, Jill Jonnes tells this fascinating story—a high-stakes drama that pitted the money and will of the nation's mightiest railroad against the corruption of Tammany Hall, the unruly forces of nature, and the machinations of labor agitators.

In 1901, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Alexander Cassatt, determined that it was technically feasible to build a system of tunnels connecting Manhattan to New Jersey and Long Island. Confronted by payoff-hungry politicians, brutal underground working conditions, and disastrous blowouts and explosions, it would take him nearly a decade to make Penn Station and its tunnels a reality. Set against the bustling backdrop of Gilded Age New York, Conquering Gotham will enthrall fans of David McCullough's The Great Bridge and Ron Chernow's Titan.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Modern Manhattan is a miracle in many ways, but all of its imports, commuters included, must traverse at least one river to get there. In 1900, the New York Central, owned by the Vanderbilts, already gave Manhattan a northern connection over the narrow Harlem River. A southern connection over the mile-wide Hudson would be a whole different story. Alexander Cassatt, president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, was the visionary on the project. But how to do it? A bridge plan fell through due to expense; a tunnel would lack the oxygen needed for steam engines. The breakthrough lay in the cutting-edge electrified locomotives developed in Paris. Historian Jonnes (Empires of Light), demonstrating impressive immersion in the Gilded Age, ably spins the tale, which bears some similarities to The Devil in the White City. This is a vivid story of hardball Tammany Hall maneuvering and mind-boggling engineering. Once construction began, the two-track narrative settles on the daunting construction of the tunnels and Charles McKim's much-admired design of the terminus at Pennsylvania Station, prized by New Yorkers only after its ill-considered demise in 1963. Jonnes can claim an important addition to the popular literature of how New York became the archetype of a great American metropolis. (Apr. 23) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 1901, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) embarked on an epic nine-year project to bring its tracks into New York City. It would involve two tunnels under the Hudson River, four under the East River, and the building of the majestic Penn Station in midtown Manhattan. In her meticulous history, Jonnes (Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race To Electrify the World) brings to life the project's leaders, its workers, and early 1900s New York City. She carefully explains how engineering decisions were made to overcome the extremely difficult tunneling conditions. She creates suspense over the PRR's investigation of why the Hudson River tunnels kept shifting in the riverbed's silt. She gives full attention to the McKim, Mead & White architectural designs for Penn Station and details the sensational Stanford White murder and trial. Throughout, she seamlessly weaves in the machinations of the Tammany Hall political machine and the imperious practices of Gilded Age business tycoons. In a sad epilog, she chronicles the decline of the PRR and Penn Station's demolition in 1963. Several dozen superbly chosen period photos and diagrams round out the book. Jonnes has produced a well-researched and fast-paced history that is most highly recommended to all libraries.
—Lawrence R. Maxted
From the Publisher
"David Drummond's voice deserves five stars.... The author's skill and a narrator perfect for nonfiction will delight lovers of true stories from the past." —-AudioFile
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781615557783
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 4/19/2007
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author


Jill Jonnes is a historian and the author of Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World.

David Drummond has made his living as an actor for over twenty-five years, and he received an AudioFile Earphones Award for his first audiobook, Love 'Em or Lose 'Em.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2009

    Great Book!

    I just received this book two days ago and just by reading the first few pages of chapter 1 I was very impressed. Jill does an excellent job of depicting the time period and how difficult life was for many people during that age. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves the Pennsylvania railroad, like me, and who is interested in the politics and economics of the late to early 19th and 20th century "big business". Hopefully, we will continue to see more and more writings like this.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 12, 2009

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    Posted November 10, 2009

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