The Engineer’s Wife

Written by Tracey Enerson Wood
Review by Kate Braithwaite

In the tradition of many recent novels bringing to light the stories of forgotten women from America’s past, meet Emily Warren Roebling, wife of Wash Roebling, chief engineer of the Brooklyn Bridge.

The Engineer’s Wife is a warm and human story of an extraordinary young woman. Emily first meets Wash Roebling at a military ball where he was her brother’s aide. Their romance grows against the backdrop of the Civil War and, when the conflict is over, they marry. From the outset, Emily is an unconventional wife, insisting on travelling within America and overseas with her bridge-building husband and father-in-law. But when Wash takes on the project of building the Brooklyn Bridge, Emily has no idea of how involved she will become or how the long years of bridge-building will shape their lives and marriage.

Tracey Enerson Wood presents a vivid and compelling window into late 19th-century America and New York City. Emily Warren Roebling’s contribution to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge was remarkable and makes for a fascinating read. The scope of the project, the perils its builders faced, and the debilitating effect of decompression sickness on Wash Roebling are vividly described. Emily takes on a years-long challenge to gain the respect of her engineers as she learns complex skills from her husband, his books, and the employment of her own strong intellect.

Much of the focus of the story is on the tensions that arise between Emily and Wash over the years, and Wood chooses to create a love triangle between the two and PT Barnum. Since this is clearly fictitious, some readers may feel it detracts from what is otherwise a convincing fact-based portrait of an under-recognized figure, as well as an engrossing story about the building of an iconic landmark.