The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914
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The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  5,913 ratings  ·  605 reviews
David McCullough, writer, historian, lecturer, and teacher, is the only author ever to receive the Francis Parkman Prize twice. He has also received the Pulitzer Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and two National Book Awards, for history and for biography. His other books include The Johnstown Flood, The Great Bridge, Mornings on Horseback, Brave Companions, and Tru...more
Kindle Edition, 704 pages
Published (first published 1977)
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My uncle recommended it. I had barely started it when we left on a cruise of the Panama Canal, sailing from LA. This book is a detailed, non-fiction account of France's selection of the canal site in Central America, the politics, diseases, intrigues, and construction of locks and "Big Dig".

I forgot all about the cruise ship activities and buried myself in this book. It awoke the "inner engineer" in me that I didn't know I had. I read it desperately night and day, hoping to finish before reachi...more
Christopher Carbone
Something very strange happens about 30% through "Path Between the Seas." For the first 1/3 of the book, the reader must trudge through pedantic descriptions of very trivial matters and a hodgepodge of boring discussions on all things nautical. Then, all of a sudden McCullough does something amazing: he reminds you that people- everyday ordinary people -really cared about the Panama Canal, what it could do and what it would mean. And when it nearly failed, even though we are talking about people...more
Dave Gaston
An epic historical account of the building of the Panama Canal. One of man's largest turn-of-the-century engineering and medical feats. The story spans 30 years including both the French failure and Roosevelt’s victory. Critical to US Naval Superiority. Pivotal in the war on Yellow Fever and Miliaria. A great, great story told by a master. Anything and everything written by David McCullough is exceptional. There are few scenes within this multi-tiered masterpiece that are still haunting. For exa...more
Apr 02, 2008 Brian rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: U.S. history buffs
This book tells the complete story of the building of the Panama Canal, beginning with the French efforts from 1870 to about 1889, and then continuing with the U.S. completion from 1902 to 1914. I found the parts describing the actual building of the canal (by both the French and the U.S.) to be the most interesting parts of the book. I was much less interested in the political machinations dealing with the U.S. - Columbia negotiations and the U.S. assistance in the creation of the Republic of P...more
I read this out loud to Dan. I really didn't think we'd finish before we left for Panama, but we did it! And this book is loooong. I really enjoyed it though. This is the first McCullough book I've read and I'm incredibly impressed with the amount of research he puts into his writing and loved all the details. It made seeing the Canal so much more impressive. I only wish McCullough would have gone into a little more depth with the actual engineering of the canal, but the politics behind the proj...more
David McCullough is one of my favorite authors, however, a book on the Panama Canal wasn't something I was really interested in until I found the book some years later at a used book sale and decided to give it a try. Like many Americans my only knowledge of the Panama Canal was what I read in the textbooks--the United States built the Canal after curing yellow fever. That is such an oversimplified viewpoint that it is almost untrue. It was pretty surprising to find out that the French had origi...more
A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing my recent string of books chronicling enormous engineering projects (“The Great Bridge,” the World’s Fair part of “The Devil in the White City” and now “The Path Between the Seas”) with my friend Paul, and as I relayed the sacrifices made and the years dedicated by the men behind these works, Paul remarked, “Dude, can you imagine dedicating your life to building a f*cking bridge?” On many levels, this insight is full of wisdom. The engineers who undertook...more
McCullough, David. THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS: The Creation of the Panama Canal – 1870-1914. (1977). ****.
Deemed a popular history, this immense study is more of a scholarly text. The book won the National Book Award for history in 1977 and was a best seller. McCullough, as usual, has done his research and has provided the history of the canal from its inception in the late nineteenth century by the French to its final completion by the Americans in 1914, at about the time of the start of WW I....more
John Valesano
This was a very interesting and informative book on the dream of connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans with the Panama Canal. The book starts with the involvement of the famous French designer and construction manager of the Suez Canal and France's eventual failure, and finishes with the US completing the job. It contains all the engineering difficulties, political intrgue, medical discoveries, labor relations management , and construction management challenges you could ask for. With the c...more
Details of death from disease and other signs of criminal ineptitude are giving me nightmares. French, French, please go away. The "First Frenchman" Ferdinand de Lesseps was the worst kind of charlatan, buying political influence and the media and financially ruining his fellow Frenchmen.

Later: Well, the French did eventually go away, but, amazingly, as late as 1904, 15 or so years after the French had abandoned the scheme for a sea-level canal, some Americans continued in the froggy delusion th...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
David McCullough, as the subtitle spells out, here tells of the "creation of the Panama Canal," a tale spanning the first surveys in 1870 a few years after the American Civil War to the opening in 1914 just before the first World War. The tale had world dimensions I was unaware of before reading the book. As McCullough put it in his Preface: Because of the Panama Canal one nation, France, was rocked to its foundations. Another, Colombia, lost its most prized possession, the Isthmus of Panama. Ni...more
Barksdale Penick
I like reading history and will remember much about this book. The French raising the most money ever by a private company and proceeding to start digging without ever really developing a comprehensive plan. They kept on until the money was all gone. The machinations in the US Senate that somehow resulted in the canal being built in Panama rather than Nicaragua) and as a lock canal (rather than a sea level canal, which was probably impossible). I think the Senate made the right but it sure makes...more
"The Path Between the Seas", by David McCullough was a classic good book. The construction of the Panama Canal is always a very fasinating topic with its failure and then success and McCullough relived it in his book. The story starts with powerful countries rushing to figure out a plan for a interoceanic passage way through Central America, complete it, and make history. The French take the first wack at it, and go for a canal through the Isthmus of Panama. They put Ferdinand de Lesseps at the...more
Tim Jin
I can understand why "The Path Between the Seas", about the Panama Canal is getting mix reviews from other listeners. I'm only the fourth person to write a review on this audiobook and the audio was published just a few years ago. The print version was published over 30 years ago, but the information is not outdated because the Panama Canal is a part of the Earth that was man made.

If you are not familiar with David McCullough, you will have a rough time getting through any of his books because...more
As with many McCullough books, it is wider than it is deep and therefore a good primer on a subject. Granted, the book was written and published prior to the canal's transfer back to Panama, but that's neither here nor there. The first half of the book got about waist-deep in the French canal debate and failure, while the second picked up with the U.S. purchase and construction. Unfortunately, the second half in particular felt almost rushed. McCullough does a good job of charting the broad hist...more
This is a mostly fascinating book about the building of the Panama Canal. I say mostly because even though I learned a lot (who knew the French started building the canal 40 years earlier?), I felt that (even though this was abridged), he spent too much time on French politics and finances and not enough on the finishing of the canal. McCullough is sometimes too scholarly, t too detailed for me, I loved the details about fighting Yellow Fever and the construction of this wonder of the world. Thi...more
Very large and also quite tome-ish, though the book was not hard at all to get through. He has wonderful mastery of the details and knows how to present the human drama in the midst of all of the historical mish mash. Its a fascinating story about the canal that starts with the initial extremely difficult explorations of Panama. The French are the first to undertake the project though ultimately it shifts into American hands. The undertaking was the largest of its kind to that date in history. T...more
Nan Williams
Jan 27, 2013 Nan Williams is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
Will I ever finish this book? It goes over and over and over the same information page after page. And then it jumps 20 years hence or 20 years previous and recounts conversations or letters or dialogue in the most miniscule fashion. Maybe this was the way you wrote history in the early 70s. I don't remember, but it certainly seems never-ending. I'm almost halfway through and we're not really started yet. However, on the plus side, I've learned what a world wide enterprise this was and how diffi...more
The Panama canal is one of the 7 wonders of the world. Cutting a path 47 miles through the Isthmus of Panama rising up over the mountains and back down again. The journey to the completion of the canal was just as interesting as the engineering that went into it.

Ferdinand Delesseps, the Frenchman who had supervised the building of the Suez canal more than a decade earlier decided to tackle an even greater challenge. However he has a victim of his own hubris. Raising no where near enough money i...more
This audiobook was read by Edward Herrmann and he is wonderful. His reading of "Unbroken" and others are legendary.

The book reads easily with many details for historical non-fiction. Not dry or boring, and the characters come to life "...he was dancing and pirouetting on stage in front of the debacle behind him". I plan to listen to McCullough's "Truman" soon. I learned a lot about malaria, yellow fever, electrification of industry, international manipulation by the west, the greatest financing...more
Justin Van eaton
wonderful account of building the Panama Canal (including an earlier attempt by the French I was unaware of). The creativity and engineering are incredible, but just as remarkable was the conquering of the mosquito, which was one of the biggest obstacles to finishing the project.
The Panama Canal appears to have been as much an administrative victory as a technological one. McCullough makes a compelling story out of selfish geniuses, bureaucracy, technological advances, hardship, and ultimately triumph. Plus my 2nd-favorite president is in it.
I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in history and massive engineering projects. The scale of the canal was much larger than I realized and David McCullough has written a detailed, fascinating book
Listened on tape before our Panama Cruise this month. Made it so impressive as we spent the day crossing from the Pacific to the Carribean, thinking about what it took to build the Canal
A mammoth book for a mammoth project. Started by a French company the construction devolved into a morass of political payoffs, bankruptcy and an enormous trial that saw several prominent French politicians do jail time. When the US took over in the late 1890s there was no less politics. Colombian intransigence forced US fomenting of an essentially bloodless revolution in Panama. McCullough dutifully records all this in painstaking detail. Too much detail for me. With 400 pages read and still 20...more
Way too tedious. I didn't want to know every single detail of every single person involved in any way, shape, or form with the canal. The book was especially difficult to get through in the many pages going through the behind-the-scene political machinations in detail. Rarely have I read a book over 500 pages (this one tops 600) that wouldn't have benefited from having at least 100 pages cut off. This one would have been better if it had been half the length with a tighter focus on the actual pr...more
True to the other McCullough books I've read, this is full of lots of detail, some of which is not really necessary, but generally a very interesting topic. Of particular interest is not just the historical/political context, but the engineering and especially, to me, the medical advances made. The cost of the canal project in dollar figures, amount of work, and human lives is absolutely incredible.

The section on the French beginnings of the canal seemed to take too large a portion of the book,...more
McCullough is one of my favorite authors. I read this book a long time ago but decided to read it again. It is an incredible story of the time and energy that went into building the Panama canal. It is a fascinating story of how overconfidence can lead to bad decision making and ignorance of what the data are telling you. The original French effort to build the canal was flawed because there didn't do enough work to really understand what they were up against and they were ignoring a lot of the...more
I know it took me a ridiculously long time to finish this book, but I really did love it. McCullough has a way of bringing history to life. He adds a ton of detail, but it never seems tedious. The story is in the details. That's what makes McCullough books so fascinating. He presents history, as what it is, a tale of human error, achievement and hope. History is our story, and David McCullough reminds us why. We are all connected.

I wish I was writing this review back in the day when I actually f...more
Webster Bull
I am writing a short biography of an American businessman who worked in Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador from 1890 to 1914, so I picked up this history of the building of the Panama Canal for some local color. I got much more than that. McCullough (Truman, John Adams) weaves a true tapestry of the times, from the Gilded Age to the very month when World War I began, August 1914.

The French began the Panama Canal, led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the flamboyant dreamer who had only just completed the Sue...more
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David Gaub McCullough is an American author, narrator, historian, and lecturer. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian award.

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, McCullough earned a degree in English literature from Yale University. His first book was The Johnstown Flood (1968); a...more
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“To the majority of those on the job his presence had been magical. Years afterward, the wife of one of the steam-shovel engineers, Mrs. Rose van Hardevald, would recall, "We saw him...on the end of the train. Jan got small flags for the children, and told us about when the train would pass...Mr. Roosevelt flashed us one of his well-known toothy smiles and waved his hat at the children..." In an instant, she said, she understood her husband's faith in the man. "And I was more certain than ever that we ourselves would not leave until it [the canal] was finished." Two years before, they had been living in Wyoming on a lonely stop on the Union Pacific. When her husband heard of the work at Panama, he had immediately wanted to go, because, he told her, "With Teddy Roosevelt, anything is possible." At the time neither of them had known quite where Panama was located.” 4 likes
“One had only to look at the map to see that Panama was the proper place for the canal. The route was already well established, there was a railroad, there were thriving cities at each end. Only at Panama could a sea-level canal be built. It was really no great issue at all. Naturally there were problems. There were always problems. There had been large, formidable problems at Suez, and to many respected authorities they too had seemed insurmountable. But as time passed, as the work moved ahead at Suez, indeed as difficulties increased, men of genius had come forth to meet and conquer those difficulties. The same would happen again. For every challenge there would be a man of genius capable of meeting and conquering it. One must trust to inspiration. As for the money, there was money aplenty in France just waiting for the opening of the subscription books.” 1 likes
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