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Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal

by Zachary Karabell

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1331157,340 (3.66)3
The building of the Suez Canal was considered the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century, but as Karabell shows, it was much more than a marvel of construction. Parting the Desert details an extraordinary meeting between East and West. of photos.
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This reminds me somewhat of Peter Bernstein’s Wedding of the Waters, about the construction of the Erie Canal. Both authors seem unclear about many of the civil engineering aspects of the projects; Bernstein gives a confused account of the stump-pulling machines used in New York, and Zachary Karabell, commenting on the dredging machines used in Suez, says “…some used steam and some used coal…” for power, indicating a misunderstanding of how steam power works. However, both books tell fascinating stories of the politics involved in canal construction. I had always assumed that the English would be enthusiastic about Suez Canal construction, given its eventual importance to the British Empire; however, there was actually quite a bit of resistance in Parliament.


It was saddening to read about the Viceroys and Khedives of Egypt, who seemed to have good intentions for improving the lot of the Egyptian people and improving Egypt’s standing in the world, but who ended up bankrupting the country and turning it into an English protectorate. And Ferdinand De Lesseps’ story also had a sad ending, going from an engineering hero to a disgraced financial speculator, dying under house arrest.


An easy read, adequately illustrated; it could use some more maps but that’s a personal fetish of mine. Recommended. ( )
3 vote setnahkt | Feb 17, 2019 |
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It was late afternoon in the desert when they emerged from the labyrinth of eddies that flowed through the Nile Delta.
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The building of the Suez Canal was considered the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century, but as Karabell shows, it was much more than a marvel of construction. Parting the Desert details an extraordinary meeting between East and West. of photos.

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