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Author Ken McGee gives a glimpse of 19th century St. Louis in ‘The Great Hope of the World’ novel

St. Louis author Ken McGee talks about his latest historical novel, “The Great Hope of the World.”
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis author Ken McGee talks about his latest historical novel, “The Great Hope of the World.”";s:

The construction of the Eads Bridge a century and a half ago almost made St. Louis one of the most important cities in the country. The steel combined road and railway bridge over the Mississippi River brought rail and other traffic from the east to St. Louis and beyond.

The bridge serves as the backstory to St. Louis author Ken McGee’s latest historical novel “The Great Hope of the World.”

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked to McGee about his novel, which gives a glimpse of 19th century St. Louis through the eyes of two Irish immigrants.

McGee said he used the Eads Bridge as a significant part of the story because there was a sense that St. Louis would be in competition for the greatest city in the country.

 “That’s how they felt at that time because St. Louis was always the eastern most western city, and the western most eastern city,” McGee said. The title of the novel reflects the perceptions people had of St. Louis.

Various architects and critics across the country doubted that the bridge would be completed. But the bridge ended up being the longest arch bridge in the world and the first structure to use steel.

The book details various elements of issues occurring during the 19th century in the country, including stories of various suffragettes. The main characters of the book are Irish, reflecting part of McGee’s family history.

“One of the reasons many Irish moved here is there wasn’t as much anti-Irish sentiment in St. Louis as there was in other cities across the United States,” he said. “… Mainly because they had city fathers who were Irish.”

Other notable names mentioned in the book include Susan Blow, who established the first public kindergarten, Jesse James and his gang, the Quantrill's Raiders and Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president.

Listen to the full discussion about “The Great Hope of the World:”


St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.