Sunday, June 5, 2016

Book Review: Washington's Monument and the Fascinating History of the Obelisk

This book truly is, as the title states, fascinating. Written by John Steele Gordon, and published this year, it tells how the idea of the Washington Monument located in Washington DC came about and how it was built. He also tells how the Obelisk was originally made.

Chapter one, "The Father of His Country," talks about the great acts of George Washington, the first monument built in his honor, and the founding of the Washington Monument Society.

Chapter two, "The Gift of the Nile," goes back to Ancient Egyptian times. It tells how the Egyptian's built huge monuments with primitive tools and man-power, how the obelisk helped measure the circumference of the earth with an almost perfectly accurate result, and theories on how these obelisks were raised.

Chapter three, "Building a Stump," talks about the struggles of getting Washington's Monument started, funding problems, how the states sent stones with inscriptions on them to be used, choosing the site, the destruction of the stone sent by the Pope, and how construction halted, leaving a line that can still be seen today.

Chapter four takes us back in time again with "Stealing Obelisks." When Rome came into power, it took over rule of Egypt and moved Obelisks to Rome to serve as reminders of their strength and power. Problems of how to ship the obelisks without damaging them are discussed, as well as the technology and tools that the Ancient Romans had available to them that the Egyptians did not have.

Chapter five, "Paris and London Take Their Prizes," talks about how these cities, in order to compete with the glory of Rome, also requested Obelisks for themselves. It also talks about Napoleon's expedition to Egypt and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone, which unlocked the secret of the hieroglyphics on the obelisks.

Chapter six, "Reaching the Top," recounts the completion of Washington's Monument, how the problem of the foundation was solved, and how the aluminum tip was made to act as a lighting rod, since the monument was the tallest building in the world at the time.

Chapter seven, "Securing New York's Moral Grandeur," talks about how the obelisk known as Cleopatra's Needle came to Central Park. It also gives a mini history of the growth of New York, the second wave of immigrants, and the issues they encountered in the Industrial Age of moving and obelisk (the only one with it's original base moved with it).

Chapter eight, "Into the Twenty-first Century," talks about the problems with the lighting rod at the top, the addition of the fifty flag poles around its' base, renovations, and other obelisks built around the world.

The book ends with this statement:
Silent and imperturbable as always, the Washington Monument will doubtless witness much more history as it continues to stand at the symbolic epicenter of the extraordinary country that George Washington, more than any other single person, had made possible.

The book measures 5" x 10" and has 230 pages (including the index). I read it over the course of four days. It's a great, concise history of events that happened in America in its early days as a country. I highly recommend it. Here's the link to Amazon.

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