David McCullough’s THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS
Book review by Dennis D. McDonald
This book details the French and American experiences building the Panama Canal. The French failed miserably under a cloud of financial mismanagement and outright deception. The Americans succeeded boldly and decisively but on the backs of non-white workers and an engineered Panamanian “revolution.”
McCullough does not flinch from detailing the missteps and the realities. Especially interesting are the political machinations surrounding the US supported Panamanian “revolution” that provided the environment for canal construction. Also of great interest is the extensive political wrangling surrounding whether to build a land-based or a lock-based canal.
Viewed from today’s perspective and the access we have to detailed geographic, geological, and remote-sensing data, it is sobering to realize how much uncertainty existed in getting the job done and how much of an accomplishment the job really was despite the physical, environmental, medical, and meteorological challenges.
Mccullough effectively alternates between the human scale and the vast engineering scale. The politics makes everything recognizable – albeit a bit depressing.
Probably, the human and medical cost of the effort would not be tolerated today as it would be impossible to hide the working conditions and daily dangers. But they did get the job done.
As I’ve always enjoyed detailed stories about challenging engineering and construction projects (atomic bomb, hydrogen bomb, skyscrapers, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.) this book fit my interests like a glove. I just wish we could send McCullough back in time to tell us how the Pyramids were really built!
Copyright © 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald