Having seen the canal in person in 1978, and leaving thoroughly amazed at this masterwork in engineering, I've read various shorter accounts of the project in years since. But nothing comes close to this masterwork of scholastic research. I can't imagine a more thorough, comprehensive, end-to-end history of one of the most amazing and successful efforts mankind has ever attempted in terms of overcoming nature and geography. I knew of the previous French effort, and was also aware of the "Nicaragua" option, but to read of the intrigue, the politics, and the personalities that tried, failed, and influenced the ultimate outcome is riveting. It took the total commitment and faith of the United States Presidents (Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson) over 14 years to do what they seldom do - make a decision, fund it, and then leave it to the hands-on experts to make the real decisions in how to get it done. That, more than anything, seems to come through as the foundation for success. Having been in the tropics, and Panama, in more modern times one can still see the rampant jungle literally a few miles from civilization. To imagine the thousands of workers toiling day after day in the wet, mud, and unbearable heat is mind boggling, yet they did it. There were parts of the book where I thought it bogged down in minutiae, reading almost as minutes of endless rounds of meetings among French and/or U.S. politicians, lobbyists, lawyers, and those in authority for building the canal "on the ground" in Panama, but in the end I have only praise for David McCullough - it wouldn't have been a complete story without all of those background details. It was a stupendous effort, and it required a stupendous effort by a gifted researcher and writer to document it, and David McCoullough has done just that. Read about one of the engineering marvels and wonders of our modern day world. You'll be glad you did.
You wouldn't think that a book detailing the creation of the Panama Canal would be an exciting and quick read. Well, you'd be wrong! I love David McCullough, I think he is flat-out the best biographer out there as well as being one hell of a history author. 1776 is my favorite book about the American revolution. The Path Between the Seas had me so interested in geology, Central American politics, jungle wildlife, topography, stuff that I would never have thought I would be interested in. It's not simply a story of the Panama Canal, it is a story of everything that multiple countries and governments went through to bring this grand project to fruition. Amazingly well-written, but I expect no less from Mr. McCullough.
What an incredible story! In many ways, this book deserves five plus stars because of the vast amount of information and research McCullough has done. But, I will just say this, it was difficult reading at times; so many names to try to keep straight. It frustrated me with all the details. Having said that, however, I want to mention that we just took a trip thru the Panama Canal and this book made me appreciate the experience so much more than I otherwise would have. From the French starting the canal, to the Americans taking over, to the inspiring completion in 1914, this book points out what an incredible engineering feat this was (and still is), done without the use of modern technology. This book is a must read for people planning to go to the canal. As you see, it took me a very long time to wade thru it; I was reading other books at the same time, but I'm glad i plowed thru to the end; it truly is astonishing what was accomplished by so many and so long ago.
What does it take to succeed when the odds are all against you? This is the engaging, detailed story of the full history of the development of the Panama Canal from the late 19 Century under the French until its opening in 1913 under the Americans. This story is vast and is a testament to man's ability to accomplish the near impossible. Over 30,000 people died during the more than two decades of the development of the Canal, mostly from pneumonia, malaria and yellow fever. The yellow fever outbreaks sometimes killed whole groups of new arrivals to the canal site with two weeks of their stepping off of the boat. This a true history of perseverance from pure guts and force of will, the faulty economics of underestimation, the conquest of terrible diseases and nature's geological and biological challenges, management of heavy equipment and an impenetrable rainforest, the political intrigue of a coup for the independence of Panama, the French failure, and Teddy Roosevelt's success from his insistence on getting it all done. Truly, this project was way beyond what anyone expected. The outcome? One of the most valuable construction projects and benefit to mankind in human history.
I have received no benefit or incentives for writing this review...I just really enjoyed the read!