Seven Wonders of the Industrial World - Deborah Cadbury

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Seven Wonders of the Industrial World - Deborah Cadbury

From the best-selling author of THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS and THE LOST KING OF FRANCE comes the story of how our modern world was forged -- in rivets, grea...

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Review of "Seven Wonders of the Industrial World - Deborah Cadbury"

published 03/10/2017 | 2mennycds
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"7 remarkable feats that transformed millions of lives"

Seven Wonders of the Industrial World - Deborah Cadbury

Seven Wonders of the Industrial World - Deborah Cadbury

Even if we can’t name them (and I won’t show off by doing so!), many of us will have heard of the “Seven Wonders Of The World”, commonly held iconic structures of the ancient world, most of which have long since disappeared with little or no remaining trace, one of which (the Great Pyramid of Giza) still draws wondering crowds today.

Attempts have been made to name and categorise other wonders of the world in groups of seven, but it is of course difficult to arrive at a consensus given the subjectivity of the exercise and the scope of sights from which to choose.

I came across this book while clearing out my parents’ house (my Dad passed away two and a half years ago, and my Mum has gone into residential care). It makes for a fascinating read, and the author has a surname that, in my mind, evokes an eighth wonder of the industrial (or retail) world!

The book

This book was written to accompany a BBC TV series which I’m fairly sure I must have missed, as I would have enjoyed it, and I think it would have stuck in my ageing mind if I’d seen it.

I have the paperback edition. It consists of 330 pages of actual text (i.e. excluding bibliography, index and notes of sources). It’s broken down into… er… seven chapters, and contains 16 pages of black and white photographs and other illustrations.

The “Seven Wonders”

A selection like this is bound to please some and outrage others. It’s interesting that all seven are of British or American origin. The book’s excellent introduction explains the selection is:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The SS Great Eastern

A steamship of immense size and revolutionary design that Isambard Kingdom Brunel considered (and pretty much proved itself) unsinkable. It was his last work, and literally a consuming passion that brought him to his grave. He said of it (quoted at the start of the chapter) “I have never embarked on any one thing to which I have so entirely devoted myself…”

This, to me, was a very moving chapter, as the fortunes and health of Brunel were bound to the advances and halts in the ship’s construction, launch, and career.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The Bell Rock Lighthouse

Built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s grandfather, this was a lighthouse constructed against astounding odds on a reef of rock that was only uncovered by the tide for two hours twice per day, in the Firth Of Forth, which was a haven for shipping from wild storms. The rock, however, especially its steep northern side, was the death of many ships as it was completely invisible for most of the time.

I confess that this is my favourite chapter. Although I enjoyed the whole book, this one seemed to capture my imagination the most. I found the ingenuity and determination (as well as inventiveness) of Stevenson quite remarkable. Even today it’s hard to imagine the building of a lighthouse in such a location – and a lighthouse strong enough to withstand gusts of wind of 90 mph or more (fairly frequently) and waves of nearly 100 feet high.

I was fascinated to read of its design, the development of lamps and lights (alternate red and clear beams) and of the need regularly to replace mortar washed away by the tide during construction. I found it hard not to be moved by the dangers and conditions faced by the workers, including one incident where it seemed that there were insufficient boats to take them from the incoming tide to the safety of their billets on a nearby ship.

~ ~ ~ ~ The Brooklyn Bridge

Built to link the flourishing city of Brooklyn to New York, across the turbulent East River, its towers dwarfed much of New York at the time of building. As if this and its 6000 feet of length isn’t remarkable enough, it was built of steel, a relatively new material at the time.

This was another gripping chapter, not least because it cost the life of the designer’s son to “the bends”, brought on by working deep below the surface of the water.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The London Sewers

If watching a documentary about urban disease due to poor sanitation, it’s easy to forget that British cities were once rife with such sickness. The rise in London’s population (to around 2.5 million) in the first half of the 19th Century meant that the cesspools were inadequate to retain human waste, which backed up into houses.

Whilst this chapter isn’t perhaps the most savoury, I enjoyed it because, perhaps with the exception of the Hoover Dam, it’s the “wonder” that affected the most people.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The Transcontinental Railroad

We are so used to the idea of long-distance railways that it’s easy to overlook the scale of their construction in terms of sheer length and the civil engineering feats involved in crossing features of the terrain.

I was also interested to read of attacks on the labourers (hardly surprisingly) by native Americans.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The Panama Canal

As with the Suez Canal, you only have to look at a map to see the huge difference that this Canal promised to deliver, not only in distance but in preventing much of the need to sail round Cape Horn with its deadly storms.

To me, this chapter also brought out the dangers faced by the workers (many of whom died through tropical disease) as well as the scale of the civil engineering challenges)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ The Hoover Dam

The quotation at the start of this chapter by William Wattis (president of Six Companies in 1931 and General Director of the Utah Construction Company) says it all: “Now this is just a dam, but it’s a damn big dam”. It was built to provide power, but also to control flooding and to irrigate agricultural land.

Again, the chapter conveys really well the challenges and scale of the task: the dam would be twice the height of the Statue Of Liberty, and its base would be 660 feet wide. Given the weight of water behind a structure of this height, I was amazed to read of the design and construction.


I really enjoyed the writer’s style. The book is easy to read, packed with facts, yet interesting and gripping. I think that this is largely down to the way in which the designers’ or builders’ own stories were woven into the account, along with their fears, hopes, disappointments, tragedies and triumphs.


Some of these are contemporary to the time of the structure; for example, there is a grim cartoon of a water pump from which a group of people have drawn water. The figure of Death dispenses the water, an allusion to the deadly, disease-ridden nature of much drinking water in the 19th Century. I feel that the illustrations (thankfully printed on glossy paper to enhance definition) add a lot to the book. The photo of men suspended from the canyon walls in the construction of the Hoover Dam is enough to chill me to the bone! I like the range of illustrations, including scenic and portrait.

Concluding comments

I really enjoyed this book and award it 5 stars.

~ ~ ~ ~ I appreciated the selection of subjects. Whilst it is of course arbitrary and subjective, each of the “wonders” described isn’t just a feat of engineering; it also made a huge difference to countless lives

~ ~ ~ ~ I found its detail adequate to convey the “wonder” of each structure without becoming tedious

~ ~ ~ ~ I liked the interweaving of personal stories, tragedies and triumphs. It would be too easy to major on the civil engineering challenges (and successes) at the expense of the effect on those involved

~ ~ ~ ~ I found it empathetic and gripping, and its style easy to read yet grammatically correct

~ ~ ~ ~ I even enjoyed the introduction, and would urge readers not to skip it. It shows the link between the seven “wonders” as well as outlining briefly their significance.

Currently out of print, this book is available from £1.49 through Amazon Marketplace. I am tempted to try the DVD!

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Comments on this review

  • RICHADA published 03/11/2017
    Now there's one heck of a coincidence, I have been struggling through a (1956) publication on The Great Eastern for weeks now! Another superb review subject, even if perhaps I would add Bournville rather than Cadbury as the eighth wonder! R.
  • euphie published 20/10/2017
    e :o)
  • siberian-queen published 06/10/2017
    that sounds a really interesting book i would like to read this one
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Product Information : Seven Wonders of the Industrial World - Deborah Cadbury

Manufacturer's product description

From the best-selling author of THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS and THE LOST KING OF FRANCE comes the story of how our modern world was forged -- in rivets, grease and steam; in blood, sweat and human imagination.

Product Details

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Author: Deborah Cadbury

Genre: Social & Economic History

Title: Seven Wonders of the Industrial World

Type: Non-Fiction

EAN: 9780007163052

ISBN: 0007163053


Listed on Ciao since: 24/12/2010