Brian's Reviews > The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

The Path Between the Seas by David McCullough
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Apr 02, 08

Recommended for: U.S. history buffs
Read in April, 2008

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 Panama.

The devastation of men by Yellow Fever and Malaria, particularly during the entire French efforts, was absolutely incredible and heart-breaking as well. Early U.S. failure to obliterate these diseases using treatments by Dr. Gorgus that were nearly guaranteed to work (and eventually did) was frustrating.

For me the most interesting part of the book was the description of the construction methods used in the completion of the canal locks. A close second to this was McCullough's explanations of the role of General Electric in the electro-hydraulic system used to operate the locks and the movement of boats through the canal. Reinforced concrete, a relatively new construction material and one for which no design codes existed, was used simply because it was the right material for the job. The lack of design standards and guidelines did not hamper the engineers designing the myriad of concrete structures needed for the locks. I wonder if this same thing (i.e., the widespread use of an unproven material) could happen today? Also, by 1910, electric power was still a new technology. Nevertheless, the electrical engineers did not hesitate to design the system appropriately and successfully.

I think engineers will enjoy this book more than non-engineers, but it is still a fascinating story for almost everyone.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Brian Ted - sure thing. Try to remember to remind me so that I bring it down with me to the book club weekend get-together.


Richard Wintz Well written and fascinating cover to cover. Truly a book sharing knowledge so abruptly that you feel that you are present from 1870 through it's opening in 1914 .


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