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The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

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lukas, August 12, 2014 (view all comments by lukas)
"The creation of a water passage across Panama was one of the supreme human achievements of all time, the culmination of a heroic dream of four hundred years and of more than twenty years of phenomenal effort and sacrifice. The fifty miles between the oceans were among the hardest ever won by human effort and ingenuity, and no statistics on tonnage or tolls can begin to convey the grandeur of what was accomplished."
Since it is the centennial of the opening of the Panama Canal, I picked up this book on the history of its building written by the acclaimed historian David McCullough, who has written books on Truman and John Adams.
Exhaustively researched, it is also a little exhausting in, coming in at over 600 pages. But it is well worth the effort and the length is justified by the epic subject. It is a compelling story that touches on history, politics, race, medicine (the fight against mosquito borne disease, engineering, capitalism, and man's dauntless task to conquer nature, among other things. I had no idea that the French started the canal, one of many things I learned from this book. Not exactly beach readings, this is an informative, sweeping, and ultimately triumphant story of one of the great engineering feats of the 20th century or any century for that matter.
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sks2, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by sks2)
This is a wonderful work of research and skilled writing, describing the construction of the Panama Canal, between 1870 and 1914. It chronicles both the failed French effort, as well as the successful American effort at what was then (and still is) one of the largest and most costly engineering projects of all time. The book is just crammed with interesting anecdotal information, political intrigue, personal accounts, original photography, etc. If you enjoy reading about historical events in great detail, then this is a book for you! 600 or so pages, so prepare for a couple of weeks worth of reading…
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OneMansView, November 16, 2008 (view all comments by OneMansView)
This book is a highly informative account of the entire history of the contemplation and building of the Panama Canal involving many nations across several decades. The difficulties facing any entity, private or public, considering building an Isthmus-crossing canal were unbelievable: the sheer complexity of the canal design; the volume of earth to move and the size of the structures to build; the huge and multi-dimensional labor force; the tremendous earth-moving machinery required and its effective usage; the magnitude and difficulties of coordinating all the work; the decimating impact of yellow fever and malaria on the work force; and the logistics of supplying an obscure part of the world. In addition, the political maneuverings involving the governments of France, the US, Columbia, and Panama and any number of lobbyists during several periods were crucial in deciding the location and type of an Isthmus-crossing canal, as well the decisions to proceed. The debate of whether Panama or Nicaragua was most appropriate for a canal was waged repeatedly with final decisions being made on little more than a coin-flip.

Personalities are very important in the author’s story. He scarcely conceals a predisposition to the belief that brilliant and appropriate men will eventually rise to meet the most difficult of challenges. Perhaps surprising to most readers is that the first attempt to build a canal across Panama was made by a private French conglomerate led by the charismatic aristocrat and entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps in the 1880s. While his dominating personality persuaded many to undertake the huge risks of building a canal in Panama, his complete lack of technical competency and his tendency to ignore and conceal serious problems, thus deceiving investors, were factors in the collapse of the French effort after a near-decade of prodigious but ultimately futile efforts. What was to be a triumph of French ingenuity turned into bitter recriminations, with jail time being served by a few scapegoats.

The middle third of the book is devoted to the politics of the US taking on the task of building a canal and the support of the US of the Panamanian coup in 1903. Powerful interests led by Sen John T. Morgan supported a Nicaraguan canal but President Theodore Roosevelt threw the weight of his office behind, what he considered to be the more practical alternative, Panama. An enigmatic Frenchmen, part of the de Lesseps effort in Panama, Philippe Bunau-Varilla not only was persuasive during that period but coordinated the Panama takeover. Though the US quickly came to terms with Columbia over the loss of Panama, that flexing of American power rankled for years in Latin America.

The last section of the book is an amazing story of the completion, with substantial alteration, of the original French canal. After some lackluster appointees were replaced and administrative structures streamlined, serious advancement of the project began. Again, very talented individuals were key to the progress. Dr. William Gorgas was able to implement a country-wide program of eradicating mosquitoes, the carriers of yellow fever and malaria. John Stevens, a veteran of railroad design, in his role as chief engineer undertook a vast improvement of the infrastructure of Panama, such as housing, sewerage, and water supply, greatly improving the well-being of the labor force and also devised a means of non-stop digging and movement of dirt. The author suggests that Stevens’ efforts were perhaps most important for the project’s completion, yet he is largely forgotten because he prematurely resigned. His successor, George Goethals, though rather aloof, proved to be an equally able administrator and saw the Panama Canal through to its completion in 1914.

The story told is complicated with many considerations and individuals involved. However, at times, almost too much detail is provided – too many names, too many physical descriptions of people. The luminous personality of de Lesseps gets excessive attention, as well as the political intrigue in France and the US. It was not the author’s intent to write an exposition on canal building; the approach is far more social, political, and economic. It’s impossible to read this book without coming to realize the sheer audacity and improbability of building a canal across Panama, especially one hundred years ago.

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Product Details

ISBN:
9780671244095
Preface:
McCullough, David
Author:
McCullough, David
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster
Location:
New York :
Subject:
History
Subject:
Modern - 20th Century
Subject:
United States - 20th Century
Subject:
Central America
Subject:
United States - 20th Century (1900-1945)
Subject:
Panama canal
Subject:
Panama Canal (Panama)
Subject:
Panama Canal (Panama) History.
Subject:
Latin America - Central America
Subject:
General History
Subject:
World History-Central America
Subject:
Panama Canal, making of Panama Canal, Creation of Panama Canal, National Book Award winner, passageway, Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, feats of engineering, Gold Rush, Walter Reed, George Washington Goethals, Ferdinand de Lesseps
Copyright:
Edition Description:
B102
Series Volume:
1998-206554
Publication Date:
January 1978
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
61 bandamp;w photos t-o
Pages:
704
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.12 in 30.17 oz

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The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.95 In Stock
Product details 704 pages Simon & Schuster - English 9780671244095 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A chunk of history full of giant-sized characters and rich in political skullduggery."
"Review" by , "McCullough is a storyteller with the capacity to steer readers through political, financial, and engineering intricacies without fatigue or muddle. This is grand-scale expert work."
"Synopsis" by , Winner of the National Book Award

From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Truman, here is the national bestselling epic chronicle of the creation of the Panama Canal. In The Path Between the Seas, acclaimed historian David McCullough delivers a first-rate drama of the sweeping human undertaking that led to the creation of this grand enterprise.

The Path Between the Seas tells the story of the men and women who fought against all odds to fulfill the 400-year-old dream of constructing an aquatic passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is a story of astonishing engineering feats, tremendous medical accomplishments, political power plays, heroic successes, and tragic failures. Applying his remarkable gift for writing lucid, lively exposition, McCullough weaves the many strands of the momentous event into a comprehensive and captivating tale.

Winner of the National Book Award for history, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, and the Cornelius Ryan Award (for the best book of the year on international affairs), The Path Between the Seas is a must-read for anyone interested in American history, the history of technology, international intrigue, and human drama.

"Synopsis" by , From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Truman, here is the national bestselling epic chronicle of the creation of the Panama Canal. In The Path Between the Seas, acclaimed historian David McCullough delivers a first-rate drama of the sweeping human undertaking that led to the creation of this grand enterprise.

The Path Between the Seas tells the story of the men and women who fought against all odds to fulfill the 400-year-old dream of constructing an aquatic passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is a story of astonishing engineering feats, tremendous medical accomplishments, political power plays, heroic successes, and tragic failures. Applying his remarkable gift for writing lucid, lively exposition, McCullough weaves the many strands of the momentous event into a comprehensive and captivating tale.

Winner of the National Book Award for history, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, and the Cornelius Ryan Award (for the best book of the year on international affairs), The Path Between the Seas is a must-read for anyone interested in American history, the history of technology, international intrigue, and human drama.

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