The Daring Men Who Built the World's Greatest SkylineBook - 2004
With the birth of the steel-frame skyscraper in the late nineteenth century came a new breed of man, as bold and untamed as any this country had ever known. These "cowboys of the skies," as one journalist called them, were the structural ironworkers who walked steel beams -- no wider, often, than the face of a hardcover book -- hundreds of feet above ground, to raise the soaring towers and vaulting bridges that so abruptly transformed America in the twentieth century.
Many early ironworkers were former sailors, new Americans of Irish and Scandinavian descent accustomed to climbing tall ships' masts and schooled in the arts of rigging. Others came from a small Mohawk Indian reservation on the banks of the St. Lawrence River or from a constellation of seaside towns in Newfoundland. What all had in common were fortitude, courage, and a short life expectancy. "We do not die," went an early ironworkers' motto. "We are killed."
High Steel is the stirring epic of these men and of the icons they built -- and are building still. Shifting between past and present, Jim Rasenberger travels back to the earliest iron bridges and buildings of the nineteenth century; to the triumph of the Brooklyn Bridge and the 1907 tragedy of the Quebec Bridge, where seventy-five ironworkers, including thirty-three Mohawks, lost their lives in an instant; through New York's skyscraper boom of the late 1920s, when ironworkers were hailed as "industrial age heroes." All the while, Rasenberger documents the lives of several contempor-ary ironworkers raising steel on a twenty-first-century skyscraper, the Time Warner building in New York City.
This is a fast-paced, bare-knuckled portrait of vivid personalities, containing episodes of startling violence (as when ironworkers dynamited the Los Angeles Times building in 1910) and exhilarating adventure. In the end, High Steel is also a moving account of brotherhood and family. Many of those working in the trade today descend from multigenerational dynasties of ironworkers. As they walk steel, they follow in the footsteps of their fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers.
We've all had the experience of looking at a par-ticularly awe-inspiring bridge or building and wondering, How did they do that? Jim Rasenberger asks -- and answers -- the question behind the question: What sort of person would willingly scale such heights, take such chances, face such danger? The result is a depiction of the American working class as it has seldom appeared in literature: strong, proud, autonomous, enduring, and utterly compelling.