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The Path Between the Seas group read

2013 Category Challenge

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Edited: Oct 5, 2013, 10:28am Top

This thread is for those who are reading David McCullough's The Path Between the Seas this month. If you are interested in the creation of the Panama Canal, please join us in the group read. The wiki where you can add your name to the list of those reading is at http://www.librarything.com/wiki/index.php/Group_Reads_of_2013#October

Post your comments and discussions as you are reading the book.

Oct 5, 2013, 10:44am Top

I'm in! Will be starting next week.

Oct 5, 2013, 11:05am Top

I'm planning to start it sometime today. I've got a NetGalley in process too, but since it deals with Richard III, I don't think I'll get the two mixed up!

Oct 5, 2013, 11:29am Top

I've just started it and enjoying it so far.

Oct 5, 2013, 5:42pm Top

Thanks for getting us set up, Lori. I'm waiting for my book to come in at the library - am next on the list.

Oct 5, 2013, 8:10pm Top

Thanks for setting this up, Lori.

I'll probably start it in 7-10 days, after I finish my 2013 challenge.

Oct 5, 2013, 8:16pm Top

Great, Sandy! I started it this afternoon before I left for our choir party. I managed to get through page 44.

Linda - I'll probably still be reading on it in 10 days if I don't make more progress on reading than I've been doing lately. I know I won't have a lot of time tomorrow to read because I'll be at church from about 7:30 a.m. until just after noon and then from about 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. That doesn't leave me with a lot of time to read. I try to use the afternoon time on Sundays to catch up on a couple of other things.

Oct 5, 2013, 8:21pm Top

I intend to read along though my track record with group reads has been poor.

Oct 5, 2013, 8:30pm Top

Stacy> Hopefully you can keep up, but you can join us as much as possible. I know there may be a few who may end up finishing this one in November if they don't get an early enough start or don't have as much time as they hoped to complete it.

Edited: Oct 5, 2013, 11:24pm Top

I have it and will start it early next week. Looking forward to it!

Oct 6, 2013, 7:01pm Top

One chapter down - so far so good. Feel like I need a map next to me while reading.

Oct 6, 2013, 9:32pm Top

clue> Enjoy it!

Stacy> I sat there trying to picture the map that was in our Weekly Reader back in Elementary School in the early 1970s. Fortunately, I've always been a mapaholic so I'm fairly good with geography. If I need a map though, I will grab one or pull one up on my phone!

Oct 6, 2013, 10:41pm Top

There's no map in the book? That's disappointing.

Oct 7, 2013, 1:44am Top

My copy has a couple of maps...

Oct 7, 2013, 9:06am Top

For those who are interested, there's a good map showing just the canal zone at University of Texas' Perry-CastaƱeda Map Library Collection: http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/historical/shepherd_1911/shepherd-c-216.jpg

There's also an interactive map to accompany a PBS series at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/flash-interactive/panama-map....

Oct 7, 2013, 10:10am Top

Great links, thanks Lori!

Oct 7, 2013, 4:52pm Top

You're welcome, Cheli. I thought they were useful!

Oct 7, 2013, 7:06pm Top

I started today and so far I'm moving along well.

Oct 7, 2013, 9:56pm Top

There's a good map between pages 131 and 132 in the book!

Edited: Oct 8, 2013, 6:41pm Top

I'm up to chapter 6. Have had to reread it a few times to get the basic facts into my head.

But am fascinated to discover just how huge the whole endeavor was.

Disclaimer: My grandfather, a civil engineer, surveyed a short portion of the canal. I also can recognize him in a published photo of Teddy Roosevelt addressing the workers, not that it was any more important than family history.

Oct 8, 2013, 7:43pm Top

Diane> What a neat personal connection to the Canal!

Oct 10, 2013, 3:04am Top

Yes, and there are a few more things I'll bring up later, at appropriate times.

Just wanted to add that I found the book became about ten times more interesting when Teddy Roosevelt comes on the scene, which is where I am now.

Oct 11, 2013, 7:01am Top

I made it to just past page 200 before I left town. I didn't want to take the heavy book with me so I'm reading something else from my Kindle until I get back, but hopefully I'll dig back into McCullough's book when I get home. Right now, I'm reading about discovering Richard III under the carpark!

Oct 12, 2013, 2:40pm Top

Made it through Book 1 - on to book 2 Stars and Stripes forever!

Oct 12, 2013, 3:56pm Top

I rummaged around and found my copy. With only one book left til I finish my 2013 challenge, I might start dipping my toes into this one.

Oct 13, 2013, 7:43am Top

Cheli> Great going. I should be home later today and will be ready to see how far I can get!

Linda> Wonderful! Have fun -- and congrats on almost completing your challenge.

Oct 13, 2013, 9:21am Top

As you know, it's a big book. I'll probably try to read some every night. I probably won't be lugging it around with me.

Oct 13, 2013, 4:38pm Top

Linda> The size of the book is why it stayed here in Tennessee when I went to Atlanta this weekend!

Oct 14, 2013, 1:27pm Top

I belatedly discovered this thread and what the book was about, but I'll be jumping into the book later today or tomorrow. Sounds interesting!

Oct 14, 2013, 2:15pm Top

Alicia> Welcome to the group read! I hope you will enjoy it. I'm a little over the halfway point now.

Oct 15, 2013, 12:32am Top

I started it this evening. At this pace, it'll probably take me a month.

Oct 15, 2013, 8:49am Top

I'm hoping to finish book2 by the end of the week. The beginning is a bit slow but it picks up.

Oct 15, 2013, 10:01am Top

Real life having intervened, I'm stalled at the Paris conference but I'm hoping to pick it up again in the next day or two. I am finding the narrative interesting. De Lesseps seems to have been a rather flamboyant character.

Oct 15, 2013, 12:40pm Top

I'd hoped to read a chapter each evening but I think that's being optimistic, as I have other things I want to read, too.

I'd be fine finishing in November or possibly even in December.

Hearing that other people are farther along and liking it spurs me on...

Oct 15, 2013, 3:39pm Top

I picked the book up at the library a little while ago. I found myself, library card in hand, standing at the self checkout desk, reading the table of contents and fanning the pages to look for maps and pictures and notes, and NOT checking out my books. So I finished checking out, and went to Chilis for lunch, where I spread the open book on the table, using the straw wrapper to mark one page, the flatware wrapper to mark another and my finger to mark a third while I ate my lunch one-handed. Then endured the waiter's withering looks as I continued asking for drink refills and declining dessert so that I could just get to the end of this section...

I'd hoped to be finished before our vacation in 2 weeks, but I might end up taking it with me.

Oct 15, 2013, 3:43pm Top

#35 - Now that's a sign that you're enjoying the book! I've read a couple of chapters and am pretty intrigued by what I've read so far. Doubt I'll finish it this month but can see finishing it during November. The author really has a way of making history entertaining.

Oct 15, 2013, 4:45pm Top

I am up to the section that is called "Building the Canal" or whatever the section is named. (Book is upstairs, and I'm downstairs at the moment.) Like some of you, I'm rotating it with other books. I'm also reading another chunkster (on my Kindle), but the one that is really fitting the bill today when I don't feel well is a cozy mystery. I'm sure I'll get back to the canal this evening. I'm enjoying it too much to leave it off to the side too long at a time.

Oct 16, 2013, 1:32pm Top

>30 thornton37814: Thanks for the welcome Lori!

I've made it to Chapter 3. I got bogged down a bit in Chapter 2 with the background of the Suez canal, but I'm sure it is important information to understand the people and mindsets of the time. I too am glad to hear that others are liking this so much and I will keep plugging away at it a few pages at a time. At this point I think that De Lesseps might steal the show - at least in the first sections. As hailelib said, rather flamboyant.

Oct 16, 2013, 3:39pm Top

Isn't he quite the character? While reading Chapter 3 - I kind of pictured a Steve Jobs type personality, though maybe a bit more fun. Chapter 2 was a bit slow but after that it's really picked up.

Oct 16, 2013, 4:43pm Top

I found this map on wikipedia, it might be helpful.

Oct 16, 2013, 4:53pm Top

I thought pictures might be helpful too.

This is the Gatun locks looking toward the Atlantic just as I remember.

Gates of the Gatun locks open for a cruise ship making its way down to the Atlantic end of the canal. The gates at both ends of the upper chamber are doubled for safety.

This is one of the lock chambers in the Panama Canal entering the east flight of the Gatun locks, heading south towards the Pacific side. A ship can be seen in the next chamber up; on either side of the lock are the railway tracks on which the mules run

Oct 16, 2013, 6:40pm Top

Nice map; good pictures.

Oct 16, 2013, 9:24pm Top

Cheli - Thanks for the maps and pictures.

Oct 16, 2013, 10:43pm Top

Cheli, are these photos from your trip?

Oct 16, 2013, 10:47pm Top

No, but they remind me tremendously of my trip...the people on the cruise ship, the ship ahead of the photographer.

I'll have to see if I can download some of my photos.

Edited: Oct 16, 2013, 10:53pm Top

We went through the locks at Sault Ste Marie, Michigan a few years ago - the engineering is ingeniously simple and endlessly fascinating. I can't wait to go through the Panama Canal - just 2-1/2 more weeks!

ETA - and in the meantime, I am enjoying this book

Oct 16, 2013, 10:53pm Top

You will have a great time. What's your starting and ending point?

Oct 16, 2013, 10:54pm Top

We cruise from Los Angeles to Miami, so we'll be entering the canal on the Pacific side and exiting on the Atlantic. Which way did you go?

Oct 17, 2013, 12:01am Top

That's what we did, hope your cabin is port side!

Oct 17, 2013, 12:13am Top

> 40, 41

cyderyy, thanks for the great map and photos.

I hadn't thought about it, but even before starting this book, I had been researching my grandfather's involvement (along with many of the civil engineers graduating in those years) with the canal, but I hadn't seen a color photo yet in all this time! Great to see how sunny it is.

BTW, I'm off on a trip until early next week. Maybe I'll be able to make progress while away.

Oct 17, 2013, 10:25am Top

No, we're starboard, but it shouldn't matter since we have an interior cabin (AKA closet!), so we'll be spending all our time on deck.

Diane, that is so interesting that your grandfather was involved in the canal - I am looking forward to your stories from him as we go along.

Oct 17, 2013, 3:49pm Top

Then I suggest you have your walking shoes ready. As you go into the locks being on the front is interesting because of all he things you see on the side and in front but being at the back as you move through really shows how it works, IMO.

Oct 19, 2013, 7:52pm Top

I'm excited! I finished the book about 20 minutes ago and am getting ready to post my thoughts to my threads. What a remarkable book! I can't say enough good things about it.

Oct 20, 2013, 12:00am Top

We just spent the evening with the other couple who are going on the cruise with us. After dinner, the husband started talking about a book he was reading in preparation for going through the canal - The Path Between the Seas. We had a nice chat about what we've read so far - he's only a little farther along than I am. He's reading on Kindle (I think) and was interested to see my print edition with its photos and maps. I wish I had an extra day between now and tomorrow with nothing to do but sit and read - I'm enjoying this one very much and Lori's excitement at finishing makes me wish I were, too.

Oct 20, 2013, 2:14pm Top

I sailed through the last couple hundred pages. I think the last part was my favorite. It was all good, but I really loved the last third!

Oct 22, 2013, 7:35pm Top

Have just started the chapter on John Stevens, after whom my dad was named. Remarkable man, the Panama Canal John Stevens; I can certainly understand why my grandfather named his first son after him.

Oct 22, 2013, 9:46pm Top

Stevens knew how to get the ball rolling!

Oct 24, 2013, 3:12pm Top

I've gotten back into the book (after a pleasant distraction with Dear Life) and am in the middle of chapter 13 after the Spoiler? Colombians have rejected the treaty and now Panama is ceding. End Spoiler

Random question, can a history book contain spoilers? I put the warning just in case, since all this history is news and surprising to me.

I am amazed at the suspense that McCullough is able to sustain even though I know the final result - kind of like watching the movie Titanic. It just seems that the building of the canal in Panama very tenuous and I am fascinated to find how it all comes together. Especially when there were so many pitfalls to overcome. I also can't believe from the progress (or lack there of) made on the canal so far in the book that the end result, as pictured above, actually came to be.

Now I am very interested in this Stevens guy and to get to the last third especially!

Oct 24, 2013, 3:17pm Top

I don't think it's really a spoiler for folks who have much knowledge of the history of the region. Glad you are enjoying it!

Edited: Oct 26, 2013, 10:35pm Top

Have now finished the book. What a fantastic undertaking, the building of the
Panama Canal!

It puts a new perspective on the two+ pages of a typed memoir my grandfather
wrote in his later years. (I had only met him shortly before he died, when he
was already too senile to have had a conversation with a young girl.)

He mentions the demand for civil engineers at the Canal Zone in the spring of
1905 when he graduated from college. He must have gone there immediately,
because his "team" performed a survey near the beginning of the canal route "on
the Chagres River at the future junction of Gatun Lake..." and a little further
onward. Their job was "...to identify places where water might escape to the
sea when the canal was finished."

Also, I have a photo of him sitting on a burro in a straw hat on a small hill, watching Teddy
Roosevelt give a speech in a book of photos about building the canal. (See My books.) (Had thought it was a planned speech, but now realize, per David McCullough that it would only have been impromptu.)

What strikes me most about re-reading his memoir is that, even when he wrote it
(in the 1950s), most people did not have much knowledge about the rest of the
world, and certainly not the easy access to information as we now have.

My dad had told me that my grandfather left the Canal Zone early on, owing to
his disgust at what a boondoggle it was. I was holding off on mentioning this until that became evident in the book, but instead, McCullough writes at length about how there was virtually no corruption on the entire project. I would guess that my granddad, having come from generations of small farmers in New York State, who had arrived in New England during the 17th century among the religious Protestants, probably was disturbed by petty corruption.

He adored John Stevens, left around the same time as his idol, and as I mentioned earlier, named his first son, my dad, after him.

But he capped off his trip with adventures in Brazil and other South American countries.

Oct 26, 2013, 11:52am Top

Diane, thanks for sharing this with us!

I've been very tied up with the planning of an adult literacy fundraiser that will be held Tuesday. I have about 100 pages to go. I hope to finish Wednesday.

Oct 26, 2013, 4:45pm Top

Diane> Your personal perspective on the canal story is adding so much for the rest of us. Thanks so much for sharing.

Clue> We hope you'll be able to finish up on Wednesday! I think the last hundred pages should go pretty quickly for you!

Oct 26, 2013, 7:58pm Top

Yeah, I finally reached Book 3!

Oct 26, 2013, 8:01pm Top

Cheli> You'll eventually get there! Just keep plugging away.

Oct 27, 2013, 4:57pm Top

I finished! After all the false starts and tragedy surrounding the building of the canal, I am amazed that they got it done and did it so well that it is still fully functional today. I couldn't help but think that there is no way that a project of that scope could be accomplished today, but some visionary people just kept making the dirt fly, despite all the obstacles.

In my opinion the most interesting 'character' to me ended up being Teddy Roosevelt, so now I am hoping to track down a good biography on him...any suggestions?

Oct 27, 2013, 8:50pm Top

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris is the first volume of one of the best bios. However, I would (myself) start with David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback, which is a lovely introduction to his early years.

Oct 27, 2013, 8:57pm Top

I've read Theodore Rex and really liked it.

Edited: Oct 27, 2013, 9:10pm Top

There's a new bio coming out next month by Doris Kearns Goodwin who wrote Team of Rivals that they made into that film with David Day Lewis. Teddy's is called The Bully Pulpit

Oct 27, 2013, 9:14pm Top

Agree with the above recommendation for Mornings on Horseback.

Oct 27, 2013, 9:30pm Top

I have to agree that Teddy Roosevelt was an interesting character. I also liked William Howard Taft in it.

Oct 28, 2013, 1:16pm Top

Thanks for the TR recommendations! Taft was good too - I liked that he didn't let Wallace yank them around. He's another president I would like to read up on, but one at a time.

Edited: Oct 28, 2013, 5:32pm Top

aliciamay > you might want to take a look at the US President's Challenge. http://www.librarything.com/groups/uspresidentschalleng

Oct 29, 2013, 12:39pm Top

What a treasure trove! Thanks for pointing that group out to me, cyderry.

Oct 31, 2013, 12:09am Top

I switched on the radio yesterday and the program on NPR was about the Canal and controversy over whether it should be expanded to accommodate super ships. What little bit I heard was interesting, seems an expansion would likely benefit the Eastern US by taking shipments away from the docks in Calif. When I get time I'll check out the NPR website to see if the program might be available there.

Oct 31, 2013, 1:54am Top

>74 clue: Yes, I heard something about that and would find more info very interesting.

Oct 31, 2013, 10:43am Top

I'm sure we can add a bit a controversy to this proposed canal expansion. Maybe they should build one in Nicaragua instead? Well, maybe not, considering the political unrest in that country.

Oct 31, 2013, 11:07am Top


Edited: Oct 31, 2013, 1:48pm Top

The ship pictured on the cover, which made the first trip through the canal, is the S.S. Ancon, owned by the Panama RR Co. It later served as a packet boat, ferrying among NYC, the Caribbean, the Canal Zone, and, I believe, Venezuela.

It turns out that it was the ship my dad (aged 10) and his family took back to the States from the Caribbean, where my grandfather had worked as an engineer, and where the boys had been born, so that they could continue their education in the US.

In addition, my husband's dad had taken the S.S. Ancon on a short vacation to the Canal Zone and Venezuela, just after he had obtained his medical degree.

(I found all of this on an ancestry site, including some photos I'd never seen of my dad's family.)

Oct 31, 2013, 2:47pm Top

Wow, sounds like the canal is a family affair for you.

I finally finished. All the while I was reading, I was remembering the different sections as I went through. I wish I had read this before the cruise through the canal. There's just so much I wish I could see it again.

Oct 31, 2013, 6:59pm Top

I've finished too, just barely got it in the month. Learned a lot!

Nov 24, 2013, 10:38pm Top

//>79 cyderry:

"Wow, sounds like the canal is a family affair for you."

Actually, that couldn't be further from the truth. Everyone I've mentioned is no longer living, and not a single person in the remaining family has ever asked a question about or shown any interest in this stuff.

But, no problem. It's an interesting way to spend time.

Nov 25, 2013, 10:51am Top

I finally finished! Fascinating! I started it 2 weeks before our Panama Canal cruise, carried it around with me on the ship for 2 weeks, and finally finished it 2 weeks after we got home again. Like, Cheli, I wish I'd gotten it completed before the vacation. However, on the ship they showed a Nova video of David McCullough talking about the canal and its construction, which essentially summarized the book in 50 minutes.

While on the cruise, I learned that a canal is being built in Nicaragua by the Chinese. Since so much international shipping comes from China, this is no surprise as it will benefit them greatly, especially if they retain control (as the US did in Panama for many years). Also, the Panamanians are building new locks at each end of the existing canal (we got a very good view of them under construction) which will be much larger than the old locks and will accommodate larger ships. I think they will be single lane locks, not double like now, and only one ship at a time will be able to pass through. The old locks will remain open and in use.

Another interesting thing to me (and my accountant's brain) was the size of all the numbers. How many men, how much material, and at what cost! The amounts of the tolls given in the book (and in the video) are very much out of date now. After the US turned the CZ over to Panama, they must have raised the tolls. Our ship, a "Pana-max" ship (the largest that will fit in the canal, as are many of the container ships), was charged a toll of nearly $500,000 for its 8-hour passage. The tolls are based on cargo capacity and occupancy. Plus, I think we paid a sur-charge to be able to jump the line. At each set of locks, we passed other ships that were waiting on the side to let us go first. Tolls must be paid several days in advance. I'd heard previously that they had to be paid in cash, but maybe the pay-in-advance arrangement has replaced that. They told us that some of the ships in the bay at Panama City would have to wait another day or two to enter the canal because their tolls hadn't been paid ahead of time. Some of the smaller ships in the bay would have to wait until evening. The canal operates 24 hours a day, but they only let the very large ships have passage during daylight hours. Smaller ships are permitted to pass at night, and I imagine they can save on their tolls by waiting. Another thing we probably paid extra for was a canal guide. As each ship approaches the canal, it is boarded by a Canal Authority pilot who takes control of the vessel through its entire passage. Along with our pilot, we also also got a guide who came over the PA system and explained everything we were seeing. It was very interesting, and surprising to discover that he was Panamanian and not American as he had excellent American English, and no accent.

It was a long and tiring day - and hot in the bright sun. It started at 6am as we approached Panama City (beautiful) and saw the sun rising over the Pacific Ocean (a delightful novelty caused by the orientation of the canal in the S-curve of the isthmus). We passed under the Bridge of the Americas (on the pan-American highway) about 7, and approached the first lock before 8. The locks are slow - about 45 minutes for each one. Since our ship was so big, it was hard to see what was happening on the ground and in the water below us. It was much easier to watch the ship in the next lane - a container ship that we followed all day. It is a very quiet process, as was mentioned at the end of the book. I was anxious to see the Culebra Cut, as that was such a major obstacle, but by the time we entered it I was hot from being in the sun for so many hours and my feet were aching from standing on the steel deck. So, after we entered the cut I found a deck lounger in the shade to rest and promptly fell asleep. I woke up when the guide came on the PA to tell us that we were entering Gatun Lake. I missed it!

As we approached the Gatun locks on the Atlantic side, I tried to position myself to get the same view that Cheli showed us in the photos above. And, except for the big ships that were in both lanes ahead of us, it looked exactly like the picture. The double gates, which Cheli noted are for "safety", are there to protect the lake. If any of the lock gates fail, there is nothing to keep Gatun Lake from draining into the ocean. It would take 3 years for the lake to fill in enough to be navigable if that happened. It seemed very wasteful to our 21st century sensibilities to simply allow so many millions of gallons of fresh water to flow into the ocean every day, which is what happens whenever the locks are opened. The new locks will include a cistern and pump system which will improve the water-loss rate from 100% to only 40%. Of course, the power consumption to operate such a system will be much higher than the current system, so there is that trade off.

All-in-all, a wonderful book and a fabulous vacation! Highly recommended.

Nov 25, 2013, 11:10am Top

> 82

Very interesting information. Thanks for posting about your trip. it sounds like a wonderful experience.

I'm still working on reading the book but I keep getting interrupted. The French certainly made a lot of mistakes in their attempt!

Nov 25, 2013, 11:24am Top

Interesting news about the Nicaraguan canal.

Nov 25, 2013, 10:19pm Top

So glad you enjoyed the experience as well as the book.
I count the experience a highlight in my life.

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