“In the annals of history, when a great suffering is overcome or a triumph is realized, it has been necessary to build a monument as a point of remembrance. For each time, we lift our gaze upon such altars, we remind ourselves of our past, divine provision, our present and we encourage and strengthen ourselves on what we may muster to make great achievements for our families, communities, our nation and for the greater good of mankind.” – Manglin Pilay, CEO South African Institution of Civil Engineering
There are certain stereotypes attached to engineers. Words like “boring”, “bland”, and “uncreative” spring to mind. And so, when I was given this book to review, I accepted reluctantly. Megastructures and Masterminds – Great Feats of Civil Engineering in Southern Africa is anything but boring. It offers insight into the construction of 33 major structures, from the 1820s to the 2000s. Some of them them were considered impossible projects.
Take The Swartberg Pass connecting Calitzdorp and Oudsthoorn to the town of Prins Albert, via the ravines, cliffs and mountain buttresses of the Swartberg mountains. Thomas Bain, the son of well-known pass constructor, Andrew Bain, took on the complicate task in 1883, using 200 convicts to help finish the project in 1888. The pass is so well-constructed it has never been upgraded. A few years back I travelled across the pass with its steep gradients, quick descents and hairpin bends. It’s nailbiting, but beautiful, and a marvel to behold.
Other feats featured in the book include the Huguenot Tunnel, Victoria Falls bridge, Kariba Dam, Durban Harbour, and Chapman’s Peak Drive.
Tony Murray, who authored this book, has been an engineer for over 40 years. The book is accessible to anyone who isn’t necessarily interested in the technicalities engineering. The chapters are short, and are more concerned with the masterminds behind the projects, their imaginations, as well as some of the difficulties they faced in building these incredible structures, that “literally changed the face of the country.”
Rating: 3½ out of 5