Reaktion Books, $49.95 pb, 240 pp
Peter Bishop’s book on bridges is the latest in the Objekt series published by Reaktion. It joins other books on the factory, the aircraft, the motorcycle, the dam and the school. The series focuses on the last hundred years, although Bishop traces the story of the bridge back to the early nineteenth century. Bridge is not, however, a straightforward linear history. Instead, it seeks to examine ‘the bridge (bridging and bridge-ness), along with the cultural practices – from the civic to the military, architectural to engineering, artistic, poetic and philosophical – that have circulated through it over the past two hundred years, from the onset of modernity to the dawn of the new millennium’. The result is an interesting and accessible, though necessarily selective, account of bridges and their cultural significance.
After the obligatory theoretical introduction in which Bishop claims to adhere to a ‘broadly communication and cultural studies perspective’ (he is an associate professor in the School of Communications, Information and New Media at the University of South Australia), Bridge becomes more compelling as it deals with case studies from around the world. Bishop discusses an impressive range of examples from the apparently inconsequential but divisive Burt Creek Bridge, fifty kilometres north of Alice Springs, to ‘super-spans’ such as the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan, which, at 1991 metres, is the world’s longest suspension bridge.