Iron Will: Brunel’s Battle to Become the Greatest Engineer of the Victorian Age

Written by Toby Strauss
Review by Sally Zigmond

Isambard Kingdom Brunel is a name which conjures up the Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Great Western Railway and its London terminus, Paddington Station, and ground-breaking iron steam ships such as the Great Eastern. As one might expect from the Steve Jobs and Elon Musk of the Victorian Age, the visionary entrepreneur had his share of admirers and detractors and was not the easiest man to live or work with. This novel of Brunel’s life and work is told through the eyes of Brunel’s loyal assistant, Bennett, who joins Brunel as he surveys a suitable line for his Great Western Railway and is with him many years later when he dies.

There is much about this novel to admire. It shows Brunel’s vision and his determination to beat down any opposition. However, at times it reads like a biography written for those who understand engineering. I preferred the fictional elements, for instance the story of how Bennett rose from the son of a hardware shop owner to the loyal employee who smooths the way for his employer. All in all, this is a well-written and readable novel, and while it failed to catch fire for me, others may feel differently.