11 May 2022

"An Encyclopaedia of World Bridges" by David McFetrich

This new book is the follow-up to the author's previous Encyclopaedia of British Bridges, which I reviewed in 2019 (and its predecessor, back in 2010).

It lists and briefly describes over 1200 bridges in over 170 different countries, and there truly is nothing else quite like it.

An Encyclopaedia of World Bridges (Pen and Sword Books, 352pp, 2022 - also available in ePub and Kindle format) starts with an introduction and useful glossary of terms, and finishes with 90 pages of Appendices (of which, more later). However the core of the book is an A-Z of bridges around the world: well-known, not-so-well-known, significant, and curious.

It's smaller in size, and shorter than its predecessor (British Bridges had 444 pages covering over 1600 bridges) but it's still a mammoth undertaking. I've pictured it as part of its family for scale.

The entry for each bridge has a paragraph giving key details, and every page in the main section is illustrated with colour photos, although less than half of the structures have an accompanying image. There is sufficient information in almost every case to answer key questions, and the internet will beckon if an entry particularly piques anyone's curiosity.

Nitpicking Pontists can go through the book looking for surprising omissions (and there are plenty - I will leave this as an exercise for readers to address through this blog's comments function, if they wish!) However, I found I discovered far more that was unknown to me than I felt was missing. There are bridges of every conceivable age, shape and size. The sheer variety gives the lie to the traditional idea that there are really only four types of bridge (beam, arch, suspension, and stayed), with plenty of bridges that defy these simple categorisations.

The Appendices include helpful indexes of bridges by country and according to key participants in construction, obstacle spanned etc. There is an excellent bibliography with over 325 entries (although sadly for true enthusiasts, the sources of information for each bridge are not linked to the bibiliography, as was the case in the British Bridges volume).

The most interesting Appendix offers no less than 76 lists of bridges by various categories, some obvious, some much less so. Here you will find lists of Inhabited Bridges, Highest Bridges, Monorail Bridges, Chain Suspension Bridges etc. But also the less obvious Copy Bridges, Bridges Stranded by Changes in the Course of Rivers, Natural Fibre Bridges, Pilgrim Routes over Bridges and many more. I found this a particularly intriguing section of the book, giving the reader a number of ways to engage with the topic other than simply flipping through from A to Z.

I can heartily recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the history or architecture of bridges. For the world tourist, it could easily have been titled 1001 Bridges to See Before You Die (and a few more), in the vein of the popular bucket-list books aimed at people who lack the time or opportunity to travel.

I must confess I have not actually read every page yet: but it will be sitting on my desk for the foreseeable future, a book to dip into repeatedly.

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