“I was in charge of the ... architecture and the greatest work of a civil engineer in the country,” Meigs wrote in his diary. “I preferred finishing that for nothing to going to take a similar work for a good salary.”
Everyone who works in and around the Capitol should read this wonderful book.
It is no easy thing to tell such a story in the context of its turbulent times without losing the story in the times. Gugliotta strikes a perfect balance, placing the Capitol project in the political context of the 1850s without ever straying from the central narrative.
As good a job as the author does in holding his focus and explaining Meigs, he never quite figures out Davis. It is difficult to cast any aspersions on him for that. It seems unlikely that even Davis could have given a complete answer to the question of why he would help build a monument to the republic’s greatness with one hand, while working with the other to destroy that greatness.
We’re probably better off just being thankful that he succeeded in the former and failed in the latter.