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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting take on a great story, December 26, 2008
This review is from: Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time-- the Building of the Panama Canal (Hardcover)
The very narrowness of the Isthmus of Panam'less than forty miles wide in certain sections, together with the relative calmness of the two great masses of water which caress her shores, appears to have destined Panam'rom time immemorial to become, as present day Panamanians are proud to boast, "the Crossroads of the World."

That has not been accomplished without a price; the history of Panam'whether as an exploited Spanish colony, or as a neglected sector of Colombia, or as a republic, is replete with examples of decisions fundamental to her very existence and freedom being made by non-Panamanians in far away lands.

It all began in the 1490?s with Columbus vain search for a water passage to the riches of the Far East. He never found it.

In 1501, Rodrigo de Bastidas became the first European to set foot on the Isthmus of Panam'SPAN>. After relieving the Indians of a fortune in pearls and gold, he enslaved as many hapless souls as he could20carry off. Thus, were native Isthmians first introduced to the ways more materially advanced civilizations. Time would change the list of characters but not necessarily their behavior.

Twelve years after Bastidas, the intrepid Vasco N?de Balboa marched into history at the head of a motley band of adventurers. He led them on a fifty-mile blood strewn trek through Panam's steaming jungles to discover the Pacific Ocean.

When they reached its shores the tide was out. So Balboa and his twenty-six men, the first Europeans ever to cast eyes upon that great body of water, found themselves, in spite of their proven ability to overcome man and nature, obliged to wait. Finally, the tide came in. Balboa, put on his armor and carrying ?a flag with the coat of arms of Castile and Leon on one side and a picture of the Virgin and child on the reverse,? plunged into the ocean and lay formal claim to its waters and all surrounding territories.

Interest in a transoceanic canal blossomed and motivated many a powerful person. The enlightened Charles V sent a team to ascertain the feasibility of constructing such a passage during the mid 1500's. His son the pious and inept Philip suppressed the preliminary studies stating that ?a canal would be against God's will.?

Many nations England, France, Scotland and the United States among others all had ambitions for the narrow isthmus. Time would pass, blood would be shed, fortunes and reputations would be lost but on August 15, 1914, the SS Ancon sailed into history as the first ship to transverse the Panama Canal. It was a dream come true.

Author Matthew Parker, born in Central America and educated in England, has written a distinct ive history of the dramatic and drastic battle to build the canal. Parker?s book is unique because aside from telling the fascinating story gracefully and with style he captures the anguish and grim reality of those consumed by the endeavor. He depicts clearly and concisely the human price that was paid. He is one of the few to acknowledge the tremendous contributions made by many Jamaicans, Barbadians and other West Indians who flocked to the Isthmus to earn a living but became as enamoured as any group with the magnitude and nobility of their task. With all of its cruel challenges, it was an inspiring undertaking. Those who participated, and lived, never forgot it.

Few nations have had a closer or more intimate relationship than the United States of America and the Republic of Panama. The latter would not exist today had the United States not actively supported the latest of over 83 uprisings on the Isthmus in less than 80 years. President Theodore Roosevelt was not acting altruistically. He was perhaps the most impatient man ever to reside in the White House. He was determined to build a canal and quickly. He grew weary of Colombia?s vacillating negotiations and took matters into his own hands. His behavior abhorrent to many today was perfectly in keeping with how great powers acted 100 years ago.

Through Roosevelt's leadership, passion, and consuming determination to build a canal, thousands of his countrymen would brave the tropical desolation that was Panama the first decade of the 20th century. They would succeed where the French had failed reaping financial scandal, political turmoil and embarrassment.
The book in enriched by Parker?s extensive use of first hand sources such as letters sent back home to the Caribbean Islands, the United States, England and other countries. They relate the daily reality and routines of tens of thousands of common men and women who succeeded admirably.
Parker fleshes out the human contributions of these tens of thousands from scores of countries who built the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal. It is a refreshing and inspiring story elegantly written.
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