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The Big Ditch: How America Took, Built, Ran, and Ultimately Gave Away the Panama Canal Hardcover – November 28, 2010

ISBN-13: 978-0691147383 ISBN-10: 0691147388

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 440 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (November 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691147388
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691147383
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #820,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"The history of the Panama Canal's construction, operation, and eventual transfer to the Panamanian government offers a fascinating window on US imperialism in the 20th century. Maurer and Yu provide a deeply researched and highly readable economic history of the canal."--Choice

"[T]his book teaches us important lessons on the global consequences of imperial ventures with particular insights on institutional development, economic and political constraints and power."--Leticia Arroyo Abad, EH.Net

"[T]he authors' sophisticated and persuasive analysis helps illuminate the economic history--and consequences--of the Panama Canal. This book brings new questions and answers to the study of U.S. imperialism and simultaneously demonstrates the usefulness of economic history for a field often dominated by cultural and social methodologies."--Julie Greene, Journal of American History

"The Big Ditch strikes an interesting balance in addressing both the political and economic dimensions of imperialism and the practices of empire, and fills a gap by providing a comprehensive analysis of the Panama Canal through a century of its history."--Joseph Michael Gratale, European Journal of American Studies

From the Inside Flap

"Meticulously researched and brilliantly argued, The Big Ditch provides a seminal analysis of the economic motivations and consequences of American imperialism. The book is not just about the Panama Canal, but also much more broadly about the nature and legacy of Western colonialism. It will force many of us to rethink what we thought we knew."--James Robinson, coauthor of Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy

"Why did the United States build the Panama Canal at tremendous cost in lives and treasure, and then give it away to the Panamanians? What exactly did we do with the Canal when we owned it? Did it make money or was it a boondoggle? Read this fascinating book and learn the answers."--Stephen Haber, Stanford University

"This landmark book offers important new insights that will significantly advance our understanding of the national and global economic consequences of the Panama Canal. It will have a profound and lasting impact on the history of U.S. imperialism in Latin America and represents a contribution to the emergent literature on the new political economy of empire."--Alan Dye, Barnard College, Columbia University

"This dynamic and entertaining book provides the first modern and quantitative interpretation of the economic and political history of the Panama Canal, one of the largest infrastructure works ever connected to the creation of a new country, the prevention of malaria and yellow fever, the reduction of transport prices, the promotion of international trade, and the redistribution of wealth in the United States."--Xavier Duran, London School of Economics and Political Science and Northwestern University

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Eric Mascarin Perigault on October 29, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This is an extremely interesting and very revealing book. It addresses issues that had never before read . Rather, it focuses on the economics of the channel and how it was no longer profitable to transport cargo. There were several reasons: interstate highways and railroad. But there are many, many more.

Already during the Second World War it was clear that the canal was not necessary for the defense. The channel maintenance costs were high. And it was not well managed , it was like a place to General retire. Had to invest in it. Had to stop to management. But in 1970 American nationalism prevented transfer it openly .
The book begins with a historical overview of Panama as a transit route . And an excellent summary of the whole process of negotiation and construction of the canal.

The book is full of tables and graphics that illustrate what explains . And the bibliography is intense and extensive. Good , good book.

There are things that do not touch . But what is written about the history of Panama is generally true .
At the end conclude: "Its political protectorate failed to create democracy . Its economic protectorate failed to create prosperity ."
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By anonymous on March 31, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book was just what I was looking for, a way to get some solid knowledge of this history. It's really relevant to U.S. politics in Central America and to the globalization of commerce in general. I especially liked that the authors devote a fair amount of energy to backing up each statement with an analysis of alternate ways history could have gone. This means that when they say the canal was or wasn't advantageous to the U.S. at different points in history, they've backed up each statement with an analysis comparing alternative types of transit, and you get the full picture rather than a guess or theory.

It's four stars and not five because at times it gets too far into these counterfactuals when I really only cared about the main point. Also, it doesn't spend too much time on the building of the canal itself, so if you're looking for swashbuckling tales of engineering might, you won't really find them here.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By economists, for economists. I give this book three stars for the general lay reader. It is written by professional economists, for professional economists. It's an economic history and analysis of the Canal. The title assigned by the Princeton University Press is misleading. If you're not up to date on academic economics, and I am not, you'll have trouble reading this book. How would it be rated within the academy? I have no idea. Might be 5 or 5+. Still, the general reader can get something out of the book on a straight through read, the most important being a different way to look at the canal. Other authors come at it from the political, human and engineering perspectives. These authors put your mind into a different frame. Occasionally the authors' political biases come into play -- they are obvious -- and there are unsupported generalizations, but for the most part they appear to take an objective approach. In sum, if you want to go beyond the usual canal narrative, and spend some time thinking, then go for it. (There are a few strange graphics (e.g., random maps not coordinated with the text), not tables -- the tables and math graphics are essential and what you'd expect from scholars, but the others are stuck in carelessly. Don't worry about them, ignore them. I blame the publisher, not the authors.)
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