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The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 Paperback – October 15, 1978
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All that changed, writes David McCullough in his magisterial history of the Canal, in 1848, when prospectors struck gold in California. A wave of fortune seekers descended on Panama from Europe and the eastern United States, seeking quick passage on California-bound ships in the Pacific, and the Panama Railroad, built to serve that traffic, was soon the highest-priced stock listed on the New York Exchange. To build a 51-mile-long ship canal to replace that railroad seemed an easy matter to some investors. But, as McCullough notes, the construction project came to involve the efforts of thousands of workers from many nations over four decades; eventually those workers, laboring in oppressive heat in a vast malarial swamp, removed enough soil and rock to build a pyramid a mile high. In the early years, they toiled under the direction of French entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps, who went bankrupt while pursuing his dream of extending France's empire in the Americas. The United States then entered the picture, with President Theodore Roosevelt orchestrating the purchase of the canal--but not before helping foment a revolution that removed Panama from Colombian rule and placed it squarely in the American camp.
The story of the Panama Canal is complex, full of heroes, villains, and victims. McCullough's long, richly detailed, and eminently literate book pays homage to an immense undertaking. --Gregory McNamee
The Washington Post Book World Solid, entertainingly written and fair-minded...McCullough unravels the complicated and sometimes deliberately obscured story that lies behind the Panama Canal.
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt The New York Times A chunk of history full of giant-sized characters and rich in political skullduggery.
The New York Daily News In the hands of McCullough, the digging of the great ditch becomes a kind of peacetime epic...The book will absorb you...You won't want to put it down once you've started reading it.
Newsweek 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.
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This big book is necessary to tell a big tale. The effort to build the Path Between the Seas across the isthmus of Panama lasted from the 1870's through 1914. In a nutshell, first the French tried and failed to build a sea level crossing at Panama. This was in pursuit of a vision held by many national leaders in order to cut thousands of miles from the journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. The Americans picked up where the French left off, and after a decade succeeded in creating a crossing using locks and a man-made lake.
What McCollough does so well is flesh out the above nutshell. It is a tale that would not be believed if written as fiction. The level of incompetence, misfeasance and malfeasance, wondrously peculiar personalities, engineering failures and brilliance, vision and size astound the reader and underscore how that age relied more upon enthusiasm, idealism and optimism in the pursuit of grand efforts than does our careful and measured era. The French followed the builder of the Suez Canal into the jungles of Panama. Tens of thousands of French families invested their life savings in the stock of a company that had no plans for the actual canal, very little good data of conditions on the isthmus, no idea of the amount of earth required to be removed, and no budget that would pay for the grand adventure.Read more ›
McCullough skillfully weaves personalities and events together to create a powerful narrative replete with political intrigue, financial scandal, and triumph over tremendous adversity. The author first acquaints the reader with the leaders of the French attempt to build the canal - Ferdinand de Lesseps and his son, Charles, and Phillippe Bunau-Varilla, among others - and tells of the ultimate failure of their venture, and their disgrace due to financial scandal. McCullough then chronicles the ultimately successful American attempt to build the canal.
Here is seen the political intrigue (the U.S. backed Panamanian revolution against Colombia, with the complicity of President Theodore Roosevelt, Secretary of State John Hay, and Bunau-Varilla); the successful war against yellow fever and malaria, led by American doctor William Gorgas; and the organizational and engineering genius of two American Chief Engineers - John Stevens and Colonel George Goethals - which led to the completion of the canal in 1914.
"The Path Between the Seas" is more than just the story of how the Panama Canal was built; it is a well researched, historically accurate, and at the same time lively and highly entertaining account of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Highly recommended!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Loved the book. Didn't realize all the history behind the canal. Very interesting.Published 5 days ago by Michael L. Rice
Fabulous book! Lots of details! Be sure to read it before you go to the Panama Canal!Published 6 days ago by Jerilyn Monroe
Excellent read as We sailed through the Canal. Easy and full of details!Published 6 days ago by Stephen J Ganzel
Great read -- the civil and mechanical engineers will love it. Social historians too.Published 6 days ago by Susan Danly