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November 21, 2017

“The unassuming poetry of bridges reveals itself to those who would see it,” Judith Dupré observes in the foreword to this splendid volume, which amply demonstrates her point. The arrangement is chronological, starting with the Pont du Gard in Nimes, France, which dates to 18 B.C.E., and concluding with two — the Chenab Bridge in India and the Danjiang Bridge in Taiwan — expected to be completed in 2020. The Ben Franklin doesn’t make the cut, but the Delaware Aqueduct between Lackawaxen, Pa., and Minisink Ford, N.Y., does. Built between 1848 and 1850 by Jo...

November 17, 2017

Fast Company story that gives a sense of how wildly innovative bridges can be. 

“Bridges are pure structure, demanding nothing more or less than what’s needed to cross a river or a mountainous gorge. Yet new spans are proving that bridges can be much more than merely utilitarian.” 

The bridges [Dupré] selected here “mine the past and the future to enhance the environment and local economies,” she writes. They are also “also visual landmarks, delighting the public with their practical but unique shapes and spectacular lighting programs. At the same time, anci...

March 12, 2016

Two years ago, coming off one of the worst

winters in memory, I spent an afternoon with 6 of the ironworkers who built One World Trade Center.  When asked about how they handled snow, they said they shoveled the snow off every beam – 10” wide and 1,000 feet up in frigid cold—and then they chopped off the ice. If the beams were still icy, they melted the remaining ice with blowtorches. Then they continued work.  No brag. Just fact. Big tough guys. Guys who will be lucky to walk when they retire. You’ll never meet a more tenderhearted group.


Their strenu...

January 8, 2016

I’m honored to be an inaugural awardee of a 2015 National Endowment for the Humanities Public Scholar grant. I’m in good company, including Pulitzer Prize-winner Diane McWhorter, who’s working on a book about the Moon landing and the civil rights era in Huntsville, AL; National Book Award-winner Kevin Boyle, who’s writing about an early 20th-century anarchist; and National Book Award-winner Edward Ball, who wrote “Slaves in the Family.” The Los Angeles Times reports on this new NEH  initiative, which seeks to bring scholarly nonfiction to wider audiences....

September 1, 2015

The reading public rarely suspects the blood, sweat, and tears that go into designing a book’s cover. Creating a jacket that will entice bookstore browsers and visually convey a book’s essence (in a glance) is ultimately more of an art than a science. Ancora Imparo ran my story of how the cover of Monuments came into being, illuminating the process that occurs before a book begins its public, published life. Like memorials encountered in the landscape, a cover design can take years to gestate, weathering conflicting opinions about how it should look and wh...

March 3, 2015

A third-generation stone carver and calligrapher, Nicholas Benson creates architectural lettering for public buildings, memorials, and monuments. A 2010 MacArthur Fellow, Nick owns and operates the historic John Stevens Shop, a stone carving business in Newport, Rhode Island. Benson learned his craft from his father, John Everett Benson (b. 1939), also a renowned inscriptionist. 


Conceptually, Nick works on an intimate scale in which a wisp of a serif can determine the character of an entire alphabet. On the other hand, he has to envision his work on a gra...

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