Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Engineering Knight-errant by Adrian Vaughan
This biography attempts to show Brunel as he actually was. Adrian Vaughan, drawing on evidence ignored or suppressed in Rolt's classic life, reveals not just an engineer of genius, a fountain of original ideas and nervous energy, a born actor and a courageous leader, but also a man who was obstinate, unjust, dictatorial and, in the end, paranoid. Outwardly indomitable, Brunel was driven by his "blue devils": fears and insecurities he confided only to a journal he kept locked. This drive cost others dear: the Thames Tunnel cost lives, including nearly his own; the Great Western Railway, "the finest work in England", left contractors bankrupt; his experiments with the atmospheric railway cost shareholders their savings. He was an engineering knight errant, not interested in mundane solutions for the benefit of shareholders but in dramatic projects that would make his name. Throughout his life he ruthlessly pursued fame, and he worked himself to an early death. Brunel's superbly engineered railways, daringly designed bridges, and three great ships - more ambitious than anything attempted for decades afterwards - serve as his monument. Much of his work is still in place, as serviceable as when it was built. But he sold his soul to ambition, and like Faust he paid.