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The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal
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The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal

3.45  ·  Rating Details ·  128 Ratings  ·  20 Reviews
The Panama Canal has long been celebrated as a triumph of American engineering and technology. In The Canal Builders, Julie Greene reveals that this emphasis obscures a far more remarkable element of the canal's construction—the tens of thousands of workingmen and -women who traveled from around the world to build it. Drawing on research from around the globe, Greene explo ...more
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Published February 23rd 2009 by Tantor Media (first published 2009)
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Mar 13, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: us-history, panama
Author Greene brings to life the society that developed in the Canal Zone from 1904 - 1914 and ends with a brief discussion of the aftermath of the Canal's opening. I haven't read McCullough's acclaimed book, but as I understand its content, Greene scopes out a totally different area. She does not focus on the engineering, financing or politics of its inception. Her concern is the life of the people, thousands of people, who built the canal.

Workers came from all over the world. An impressive tab
Clif Hostetler
Feb 13, 2012 Clif Hostetler rated it liked it
Shelves: history
This is a book about the construction of the Panama Canal that skims past the usual praise of American engineering and knowhow to focus in on the gritty lives and harsh conditions endured by those who performed the work. The book details the development of labor-management systems that organized, segregated, disciplined and motivated the thousands of American whites and West Indian blacks with technics that are embarrassingly racist, anti-union, and paternalistic when judged by today's standards ...more
Karl Schaeffer
Excellent read written from the bottoms up view of the worker. Kinda like a "Peoples History of the Panama Canal". Not the history you get taught in school. Interesting treatise on American imperialism, labor relations, progressivism. An interesting note, keeping the canal under US control was one of the first issues used to galvanize conservative activists in the late 70's. Very dense, detail filled; yet, an enjoyable read. Good job Ms Green!
May 06, 2012 Sam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Julie Greene illustrates a particular moment in American history during which empire and paternalism shone down on bastions of US influence and territory scattered around the world. The construction of Panama's canal in a zone carved through the heart of that nascent US ally called forth immense reserves of wealth and expertise as well as a work force drawn from throughout the United States and from as far away as India and Spain. Greene focuses on the culture and travails of this laboring commu ...more
Jul 02, 2015 Ioana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Canal Builders is a social history of the men and women who built and otherwise worked in the Panama Canal Zone from 1904-1913 (with a few details about the history of the Zone since, to the present). Greene examines the experiences of white "gold" workers, of other white immigrants, of "West Indian" "silver" employees, of African American US citizens, of women. Thesis: the Herculean task of building the canal was not primarily a problem of science or manpower, but of governing such an ambig ...more
Jul 11, 2009 Rhonda rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
I expected this to be a more "mechanical and technical" account of the building of Panama Canal, but instead it focused on the international workforce who built the canal, particularly the West Indians. Still interesting....

The first 175 pages of the book were about the inequities the workers were subject to. Although most employees came from the West Indies/the Caribbean, other workers were from India, Panama, Italy, Greece, Spain, East India, Portugal, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, Colubia, Mexico
A great job of arguing that--I'm tempted just to say showing how--the engineering wonder that built the Panama canal was based on the racist division and exploitation of workers, in the context of an imperialism that denied it was imperialism and relied on sentimental idealism about America's foreign policy and historical destiny. And then the brilliant epilogue brings us up to date and explainss how plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose. In between the excellent prologue and epilogue I got b ...more
Feb 07, 2014 James rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
If you are expecting this book to focus on the mechanics and engineering of how the canal was built, then you will be disappointed, as I was. Instead, this book focuses on the human factor and labour movements. This most interesting part of this book folks was the first chapter and epilogue, there is a lot of repetition of facts throughout the book that would test the patience of some people, and it certainly tested mine, thank God I finish reading it before I became motivated to throw this book ...more
Mar 08, 2013 Kris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Despite the view that the most challenging aspect of building the Panama Canal was the technological and engineering feat, "[m]ore challenging was the task, endlessly discussed and debated by bureaucrats, of determining how best to motivate, manage, and discipline the people of the isthmus" (p. 4). Much of the story of Panama Canal workers has not been told. U.S. rather successfully pitted workers of different nationalities/races against each other, in part by system of gold and silver payrolls. ...more
Mouldy Squid
Not quite what I had expected, but interesting none the less. Greene presents a wealth of information not on the construction of the Canal, but on the people who build it. Divided roughly into sections regarding the major demographics of the canal workers, Greene uses a wealth of information on the lives of no just the men working on the canal, but the women, foreigners and Panamanians there as well. Her sources are the letters, court records, employment rolls and even folk songs and everything ...more
Regina Reimann
May 10, 2015 Regina Reimann rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Couldn't get through more than 50 pages. Dry as eating cardboard.
Muy pero muy interesante. Recomendar sin problemas
Andrew Sebastian
File Under: Social Impact of Large Infrastructure Projects
Judd Ryan
I knew very little about the Panama Canal before reading this book. I am about 170 pages into it and the vast majority of the reading has been about the labor and racial relations involved and very little information about the technical aspect of building the "Great Ditch". I hope that the rest of the book will cover more of the day to day lives of the individuals doing the work. I prefer to read about the lives of the ordinary people that are involved in history rather than reading about the ma ...more
Apr 16, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Except, as the picture says, it's called _The Canal Builders_. Have to wonder why it's now the "War of 1898" rather than "Spanish-American War" but the book also refers to the "Philippine-American War" (1899-1902). Why change the former if the latter is now the preferred option? I will never understand the conventions of some overly sensitive members of my profession.
Jan 07, 2010 Alicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since my dad comes from the CZ, this has been my other personal history book into the construction decade. There is so much information in here about that time period. The book is well written, at times a difficult read, but expertly categorized if a little redundant at times. Overall, a treasure to have, especially if you have family that was born and raised there.
Linda Nichols
Jul 04, 2012 Linda Nichols rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great social history of the people who actually did the physical labor and those who supported them. This is an excellent and very readable book,with an Epilogue that gives a brief history of the Canal since its completion.
Stephanie C
very interesting for a non fiction- a little long and drawn out and lots of detail
Jul 25, 2012 Anne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written, fascinating social history.
Feb 15, 2011 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book about the actual workers that built the canal and the conditions they lived and worked in. It is amazing to think that this all happened 100 years ago and in some ways we have come a long way but in others we haven't changed much at all. Recommend read for all those that like to read on American History. Easy to read considering the context of the book.
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