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The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of…
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The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 (original 1977; edition 1978)

by David McCullough

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2,433404,067 (4.16)1 / 120
The National Book Award-winning epic chronicle of the creation of the Panama Canal, a first-rate drama of the bold and brilliant engineering feat that was filled with both tragedy and triumph, told by master historian David McCullough. From the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Truman, here is the national bestselling epic chronicle of the creation of the Panama Canal. In The Path Between the Seas, acclaimed historian David McCullough delivers a first-rate drama of the sweeping human undertaking that led to the creation of this grand enterprise. The Path Between the Seas tells the story of the men and women who fought against all odds to fulfill the 400-year-old dream of constructing an aquatic passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is a story of astonishing engineering feats, tremendous medical accomplishments, political power plays, heroic successes, and tragic failures. Applying his remarkable gift for writing lucid, lively exposition, McCullough weaves the many strands of the momentous event into a comprehensive and captivating tale. Winner of the National Book Award for history, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, and the Cornelius Ryan Award (for the best book of the year on international affairs), The Path Between the Seas is a must-read for anyone interested in American history, the history of technology, international intrigue, and human drama.… (more)
Member:mfigroid
Title:The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914
Authors:David McCullough
Info:Simon & Schuster (1978), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 704 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:History, Read in 2010

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The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough (1977)

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David McCullough has written a fine book about a juicy topic. For those interested in naval history, there is a certain interest in this American grand strategic feature. the book is heavy on character sketches, and tucks its useful set of statistics neatly into the text. The initial attempt by the French company is given justice especially in regards to its technological mistakes and misapprehensions. The result is a work which leaves the reader satisfied and aware of the magnitude of the project. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Dec 27, 2019 |
Abridged audiobook:

There are some long silent gaps.
  rakerman | May 7, 2019 |
Qualities that built the Panama Canal: nerve; persistence; dynamic energy; imagination; ambition; propaganda; deception; desire for power.
Pleasantries involved in its building: yellow fever; malaria; typhoid fever; smallpox; pneumonia; dysentery; beriberi; food poisoning; snakebite; sunstroke.
David McCullough captures it all.

Two events were pivotal in making the canal’s construction a success. The first was acquiring the right to build it. The second was dealing with yellow fever, the most horrifying of those “pleasantries.” Success in both helped assure U.S. emergence as a world power.

The venture’s imperialist character wasn’t unappreciated at the time even though Theodore Roosevelt impatiently insisted “our government was bound by every consideration of honor and humanity . . . to take exactly the steps we took.” Those steps included violating our treaty with Colombia, aborting negotiations to modify or replace the treaty, and deploying the U.S. military to help effect the taking of Panama from the Colombians.

After acquiring the right even to build the canal, challenges remained that were gigantic. An essential matter was disease, especially yellow fever. By the time the canal became an American project, scientists had established as fact that yellow fever’s source was a specific mosquito. Then, as now, men with power distrusted scientists and dismissed their consensus: “The Isthmian Canal Commission…did not seriously entertain the notion that mosquitos could be the cause of yellow fever or malaria.” The head of the Canal Commission called the theory “balderdash.” Governor Davis thought it a “wild” idea. Chief Engineer John Wallace believed “good health on the Isthmus was nothing more than a question of personal deportment.”

As someone might tweet today, or have telegraphed back then: SLEAZEY SCIENCE LIES. MOSQUITOS?—FAKE NEWS BITES!!!

Roosevelt realized the news was not fake after listening to his friend, Dr. Alexander Lambert, who told him, “Smells and filth, Mr. President, have nothing to do with the malaria or the Yellow fever. You are facing one of the greatest decisions of your career…If you fall back upon the old methods…you will fail…If you back up [U.S. Army physician] Gorgas and his ideas…you will get your canal.” TR’s decision to follow Gorgas defeated the yellow fever scourge that frightened workers most. The incidence of malaria fell dramatically too, an even more important victory for the project.

There is much else of outstanding interest in David McCullough’s history of the canal, particularly his recounting of the previous French effort that American engineers in Panama concluded was heroic. I won’t tell more except to comment about the final chapter. In it McCullough shows in great detail what happens when a ship passes through the canal, not skimping on technical aspects of how the locks work, what must be done on the ship, etc. It’s just the sort of thing to blunt my interest. But here, after living with the canal for some 600 extraordinary pages, I could not have been more engaged by his descriptions. By this I mean to say, The Path Between the Seas is a great book. ( )
  dypaloh | Mar 16, 2019 |
I read this book because my wife and I are taking a cruise into the Canal next fall. I also love David McCullough’s books. I read his Brooklyn Bridge book and the book he wrote about the Wright Brothers. Path Between the Seas was very interesting. I expected a book on mostly the engineering of the Canal, but, typical of McCullough, this book was heavy on the political history of the building of the Canal. It gave me a new appreication for the incredible talent of the American engineers working on the project after the French left. Lesser men would have left after the first cave in of the sides of the Canal. The advances in technology came just in time for the building of the Panama Canal, including the use of electricity. I’m sure I’ll appreciate the visit to Panama much more having read McCullough excellent book. ( )
  DanDiercks | Mar 9, 2019 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (May 2009):
- Anything by David McCullough is well-researched and well told. No exception here. We begin with the poorly conceived French plans, in which financial deception was paired with incredible ignorance of the geography and climate in question. Lessops, builder of the Suez, is no match for the challenges of Panama. Wet heat, disease and ineptitude take their toll. (simply finding the 'angle of repose' is a decades long conundrum)
- A new day emerges with Teddy Roosevelt, whose limited knowledge of the task is offset by his enthusiasm for the project. Better engineering and breakthroughs in disease protection open the way for completion of the modern wonder. Personally, I knew virtually nil about the Panama Canal and its genesis, nor the years of fits and starts, loss of life, and herculean barriers that had to be overcome. McCullough's long but engaging narrative is a worthwhile read to anyone interested in recent world history. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Oct 22, 2018 |
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David McCulloughprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gardner, GroverNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herrmann, EdwardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winn, PeterForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The creation of the Panama Canal was far more than a vast, unprecedented feat of engineering. (Preface)
The letter, several pages in length and signed by the Secretary of the Navy George M. Robeson, was addressed to Commander Thomas O. Selfridge.
Among those who were profoundly stirred by the opening of the canal in August 1914 were Charles de Lesseps and Admirals Alfred Thayer Mahan and Thomas Oliver Selfridge, all three quietly retired, but each still very much alive. (Afterword)
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