The Golden Gate Bridge is a global icon, a triumph of engineering, and a work of art. In American terms, it was shaped by the City Beautiful movement, the Progressive Era, and the Great Depression. More mysteriously, the Bridge expresses those forces that science tells us constitute the dynamics of nature itself. Like the Parthenon, the Golden Gate Bridge seems Platonic in its perfection, as if the harmonies and resolutions of creation as understood by mathematics and abstract thought have been effortlessly materialized through engineering design.
That’s the opening to Golden Gate: The Life and Times of America’s Greatest Bridge, a concise examination of one of the wonders of the modern world by Kevin Starr (1940-2017). It’s a slim volume, less than 200 pages — a sharp contrast to Starr’s greatest legacy, his monumental 7-volume Americans and the California Dream — that takes an expansive and slightly non-traditional look at this magnificent structure and site. In eleven chapters with one word titles (“Icon,” “Site,” “Money”, etc.), Starr looks beyond concrete and steel to bigger topics like the geological formation of the Golden Gate and San Francisco Bay, how the Golden Gate stayed hidden from the Spanish for years*, and its cultural and artistic meanings — the Bridge as an Icon, as a driver of local commerce, as a catalyst for metropolitan prosperity.