Synopses & Reviews
andlt;B andgt;Winner of the National Book Awardandlt;/Bandgt;andlt;brandgt;andlt;brandgt;The building of the Panama Canal was one of the most grandiose, dramatic, and sweeping adventures of all time. Spanning nearly half a century, from its beginnings by a France in pursuit of glory to its completion by the United States on the eve of World War I, it enlisted men, nations, and money on a scale never before seen. Apart from the great wars, it was the largest, costliest single effort ever mounted anywhere on earth, and it affected the lives of tens of thousands of people throughout the world. Here in all its heartbreak and eventual triumph the epic adventure is brought vividly alive by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of such books as andlt;I andgt;The Johnstown Floodandlt;/Iandgt;, andlt;I andgt;The Great Bridgeandlt;/Iandgt;, andlt;I andgt;Trumanandlt;/Iandgt;, and andlt;I andgt;John Adamsandlt;/Iandgt;. andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Filled with vivid detail and incident, andlt;I andgt;The Path Between the Seasandlt;/Iandgt; is not only a fact-filled account of an unprecedented engineering feat; it is also the story of the people who were caught up in itand#8212;some to win fame and fortune, others to have their reputations and even their lives destroyed. For many it was the adventure of a lifetime, an adventure whose like will never be seen again. Out of it came a revolution, the birth of a new nation, the conquest of yellow fever, and the expansion of American power.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;Told from many viewpoints, this is an account drawn from previously unpublished and undiscovered sources, from interviews with actual participants and their families, from material gathered in Paris, Bogotand#225;, Panama, the Canal Zone, and Washington. It is a canvas filled with memorable people: Ferdinand de Lesseps and his son Charles, trying to repeat de Lesseps's Suez triumph; Jules Verne; Paul Gauguin; Gustave Eiffel; A. T. Mahan and Richard Harding Davis; Senator Mark Hanna; Secretary of State John Hay; the incredible Philippe Bunau-Varilla, "the man who invented Panama"; Dr. William Gorgas; the forgotten American engineer hero John Stevens; Colonel George Washington Goethals; and, above all, Theodore Roosevelt, who "took Panama" in 1903 and left his indelible stamp on the canal.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;As informative as it is fascinating, andlt;I andgt;The Path Between the Seasandlt;/Iandgt; is history told in the grand manner. With novelistic urgency it presents one of the great stories of all time in an account that will remain definitive for many years to come.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;With two detailed maps and more than eighty photographs.
The National Book Awardand#8211;winning epic chronicle of the creation of the Panama Canal, a first-rate drama of the bold and brilliant engineering feat that was filled with both tragedy and triumph, told by master historian David McCullough.andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;From the Pulitzer Prizeand#8211;winning author of andlt;iandgt;Trumanandlt;/iandgt;, 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.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;andlt;iandgt;The Path Between the Seasandlt;/iandgt; 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.andlt;BRandgt; andlt;BRandgt;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), andlt;iandgt;The Path Between the Seasandlt;/iandgt; is a must-read for anyone interested in American history, the history of technology, international intrigue, and human drama.
About the Author
David McCullough has been called a "master of the art of narrative history." His books have been praised for their exceptional narrative sweep, their scholarship and insight into American life, and for their literary distinction.
In the words of the citation accompanying his honorary degree from Yale, "As an historian, he paints with words, giving us pictures of the American people that live, breath, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character."
Author of 1776, John Adams, Truman, The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, The Path between the Seas, Mornings on Horseback, and Brave Companions, he has received the Pulitzer Prize twice (in 1993, for Truman, and, in 2001, for John Adams), the Francis Parkman Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and has twice won the National Book Award.
For his work overall he has been honored by the National Book Foundation Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award, the National Humanities Medal, the St. Louis Literary Award, the Carl Sandburg Award, and the New York Public Library's Literary Lion Award. None of his books has ever been out of print.
In a crowded, productive career, Mr. McCullough has been an editor, essayist, teacher, lecturer, and familiar presence on public television as host of Smithsonian World, The American Experience, and narrator of numerous documentaries including The Civil War and Napoleon. He is a past president of the Society of American Historians. He has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and has received 31 honorary degrees.
A gifted speaker, Mr. McCullough has lectured in all parts of the country and abroad, as well as at the White House, as part of the White House presidential lecture series. He is also one of the few private citizens to be asked to speak before a joint session of Congress.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1933, Mr. McCullough was educated there and at Yale, where he was graduated with honors in English literature. An avid reader, traveler, and landscape painter, he lives in West Tisbury, Massachusetts, with his wife Rosalee Barnes McCullough. They have five children and 15 grandchildren.
Table of Contents
andlt;BRandgt;andlt;Bandgt;Contentsandlt;/Bandgt;andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;PREFACEandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;BOOK ONE: THE VISION 1870-1894andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;1. Thresholdandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;2. The Heroandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;3. Consensus of Oneandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;4. Distant Shoresandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;5. The Incredible Taskandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;6. Soldiers Under Fireandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;7. Downfallandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;8. The Secrets of Panamaandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;BOOK TWO: STARS AND STRIPES FOREVER 1890-1904andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;9. Theodore the Spinnerandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;10. The Lobbyandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;11. Against All Oddsandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;12. Adventure by Trigonometryandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;13. Remarkable Revolutionandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;14. Envoy Extraordinaryandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;BOOK THREE: THE BUILDERS 1904-1914andlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;15. The Imperturbable Dr. Gorgasandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;16. Panicandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;17. John Stevensandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;18. The Man with the Sun in His Eyesandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;19. The Chief Point of Attackandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;20. Life and Timesandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;21. Triumphandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Afterwordandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;ACKNOWLEDGMENTSandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;NOTESandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;SOURCESandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;INDEXandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;MAPSandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Panama During the French Eraandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;Panama, the Canal, and the Canal Zoneandlt;BRandgt;andlt;BRandgt;PICTURE SECTIONS
Reading Group Guide
The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal
1870-1914 by David McCullough
Reader's Group Guide
1. The relations between Panamanians and the canal builders progressively worsened during the construction period. An American journalist noted, "In temperament and tradition, we are miles away from the Panamanians...the age-old hostility to the 'Gringo' is deep-rooted. Differences in language, customs and religious practices kept the breach wide." What (if anything) do you think that the canal leaders could have done to improve relations with local people? In your opinion, should that have been a priority or were there too many other pressing issues?
2. The International Congress on the Study of an Interoceanic Canal of 1879 in Paris was ostensibly an international gathering of knowledgeable delegates who would arrive at an "impartial, scientific, international sanction" about the location and type of interoceanic canal. Instead it had been conceived to "provide an inaugural ceremony for a decision already made by...Ferdinand de Lesseps. American delegate A.G. Menocal was very disappointed that the Congress lacked "serious people, professionals of proven competence" and people who "would make their decision in a spirit of reason and impartiality." Was Menocal's expectation a naïve one? Do you believe that the 1879 Congress is representative of most international congresses or was it the exception?
3. Boasting about the U.S.' involvement in aiding the Panama Revolution, Theodore Roosevelt states in a 1911 speech, "Accordingly I took the Isthmus, started the canal and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me." Years later, the United States would pay an indemnity of $25,000,000 to Colombia under President Wilson. Do you feel that this was sufficient? Were you surprised by the extent of the U.S.' involvement in the Panama Revolution? Do you believe that the U.S. government today would offer the same type of assistance to a group of revolutionaries if it were advantageous to U.S. interests?
4. The completion of the Panama Canal, "a masterpiece in design and construction," is considered one of the most important engineering triumphs of all time. Even more impressive, is that the canal was built despite the persistence of torrential rains, unbearable heat, disease and colossal mudslides. As a result, the last chapter of the book is appropriately titled "Triumph." What do you believe was the biggest triumph of the canal?
5. Unquestionably the "unskilled" West Indian labor force was as essential to building the Panama Canal as the American engineers. However, there was a vastly different approach to the treatment of these two populations during the canal-building period. Did the U.S. have an obligation (moral or otherwise) to provide better housing and disease prevention to these workers, although they were not American citizens? Why or why not?
6. With the collapse of the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique, Ferdinand de Lesseps and his son, Charles, both lost everything that they had invested in the company, along with scores of French investors. Does this somehow make the de Lesseps' deceitful actions seem less malicious? Compare and contrast the de Lesseps with corporate leaders of today charged with deceiving investors.
7. The collapse of the French canal-building company revealed an enormous level of corruption in French society. By the time Edouard Dumont began pointing fingers in La Libre Parole, "a government had fallen; three former premiers had been named in the plot, along with two former ministers and two prominent senators; more than a hundred deputies or former deputies stood accused of taking payoffs..." Were you surprised at just how pervasive corruption surrounding the French efforts at Panama was? Why do you think that the U.S. effort at Panama was free of corruption?
8. McCullough describes Ferdinand de Lesseps as complex and ambivalent man, with a personality filled with many contradictions. He was " both the most daring of dreamers and the cleverest of back-room manipulators. He was the indestructible optimist...and he was perfectly capable of deceit and of playing to the vanity and greed in other men." What do you think were Ferdinand de Lesseps greatest attributes and worst faults? What was the principal reason for the collapse of his French canal company? Do you think he was most guilty of self-deception? Explain.
9. Theodore Roosevelt insisted that he was not an imperialist. "It was inconceivable to him that Americans could ever be viewed as imperialistic...Expansion was different; it was growth; it was progress, it was in the American grain. He was striving to lead his generation toward some larger, more noble objective than mere moneymaking." Is there validity in this statement or is this a matter of semantics? Was the building of the Panama Canal an imperialistic effort on the part of the U.S. government?
10. Harry Franck, a canal employee who wrote a book about his experiences in Panama, likened the society within the Canal Zone to the caste society of India. Franck says, "The Brahmins are the gold employees, white American citizens with all the advantages and privileges thereto appertaining." Do you agree with this description of the gold-silver system in the Canal? Explain.
11. Phillipe Banau-Varilla's actions following Panama's revolution are considered nothing short of betrayal by Panamanians. With respect to the treaty negotiated by the U.S. and this Frenchman, U.S. Secretary Hays confided that the treaty was "very satisfactory, vastly advantageous to the U.S....and not so advantageous to Panama...You and I know too well how many points there are in this treaty to which a Panamanian patriot could object." What do you believer was the principal motivation for Banau-Varilla's treachery? Was it greed, paternalism, egotism or something else? Explain.
12. Although there were several popular explanations for the causes of transmission of malaria and yellow fever, many believed that morality was a factor. Similarly, morality was thought to play a part in becoming infected with HIV/AIDS early on. Why do you think there is a tendency for people to correlate infectious diseases with morality?
13. One of the recurring themes of this book is the incredibly paralyzing effect that ideology can have on its adherents, even when facing irrefutable facts to the contrary. Two examples of this were the insistence on building a sea level canal although it was impossible given the geography of Panama and the dismissal of the scientific progress made by Dr. Gorgas in the study of the mosquito's role in disease transmission. Were you surprised at how much ideology played a part in practically every facet of the building of the canal? Explain.