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

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,056 Ratings  ·  908 Reviews
On December 31, 1999, after nearly a century of rule, the United States officially ceded ownership of the Panama Canal to the nation of Panama. That nation did not exist when, in the mid-19th century, Europeans first began to explore the possibilities of creating a link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through the narrow but mountainous isthmus; Panama was then a re ...more
Hardcover, 697 pages
Published June 1st 2004 by Simon & Schuster (first published 1977)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Ellen
Apr 13, 2009 Ellen rated it it was amazing
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
George
CONSUMMATELY BORING. (AND YET…)

“The United States had a mandate from civilization to build the canal, he [Theodore Roosevelt] told Congress on January 4, 1904…”—page 387

Reading very much like an eighth-grade textbook— pedantically packed with a densely detailed, confusing, and virtually meaningless litany of facts, figures, names and dates—especially the first two-thirds of David McCullough’s behemoth, THE PATH BETWEEN THE SEAS: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 presents a serious chal
...more
Brian
Apr 02, 2008 Brian rated it liked it
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
Judy
May 01, 2015 Judy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
It takes a lot of slogging through statistics to read this book, which is what you expect from David McCollough. At times the story gets mired in a lot of detail that I'll never remember. However, I did enjoy the book and what I learned that I think I'll keep. My biggest criticism is the lack of maps. What I learned:

1. The French were the first to attempt a canal across the isthmus in Central America. This was due to the unflagging zeal of Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was instrumental in the buildi
...more
Rob
Oct 11, 2015 Rob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-stars
Probably no one writes more complete – and exhaustive – histories than David McCullough. In “The Path Between the Seas,” one of his earlier works (1977), McCullough guides you through the political, financial, and engineering intricacies of building the Panama Canal, a modern wonder of the world. It’s a fascinating read, especially if you enjoy history, politics and geography. The opening of the canal – and control – allowed the United States to maintain a two-ocean navy, and provide security fo ...more
Alec
Jul 17, 2013 Alec rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tony
Sep 17, 2011 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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
Shalane
Mar 20, 2013 Shalane rated it really liked it
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
Ce Ce
Mar 05, 2016 Ce Ce rated it it was amazing
A riveting window into another era...French first and then American. An audacious dream and a stunning feat. Personalities, politics, science...timing. Tragedy, failures and stupendous success.

We will be visiting the Panama Canal next month. It will be a far richer experience having read this beautifully written history.
Elisa
Tan titánico como el tema que aborda, este libro es sorprendentemente ligero de leer.

David McCullough tiene un estilo de escribir que recoge lo más importante de las personas y los hechos sin hacerte sentir que te está dando un listado de cosas pero tampoco sin distraerte con detalles que no son fundamentales para entender a las personalidades y situaciones de las que se desprendió una de las construcciones más impresionantes que haya hecho la humanidad.

Considerando el alcance y las dimensiones
...more
Sue
Sep 02, 2012 Sue rated it really liked it
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
John Valesano
Sep 09, 2014 John Valesano rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-american
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
Steve
Jun 13, 2016 Steve rated it really liked it
This is history written by a man who digs deep into his research, who captures the wide-ranging scope of what was essentially two projects to build the Panama Canal, and who makes it all accessible and entertaining. Now, I admit I was much more interested in the politics of it all than the engineering, but McCoullough makes the technical details seem impressive enough to somebody who barely understands how a screwdriver works. As for the politics, we get the long laborious tale of how the French ...more
Tom Lee
Jan 09, 2016 Tom Lee rated it really liked it
An engaging history of an incredible achievement. But what impressed me most was the way it challenged my tendencies toward hagiography and cynicism. Here is one of the titanic undertakings in human history -- making good on a centuries-long dream, taming nature, transforming the physical world, and doing it all through the invention of new techniques and ideas (plus plenty of determination). It's the kind of project one might understandably think is no longer possible, now that our world is sma ...more
Fred
May 14, 2015 Fred rated it it was amazing
I read this book while I was on a cruise from Houston to Seattle on the NCL Jewel, so I got to see the Big Ditch up close and in live-living-color...awesome experience! It was amazing that I went through the same locks that have been in operation since 1914 and the same locks that my Dad passed through on the Battleship Iowa during WWII from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean. The book tells the story of the men and women who fought against overwhelming odds to construct a passageway between the ...more
Judy
Jan 01, 2015 Judy rated it it was amazing
The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 is a masterful recreation of the history of the planning, building, and operating of the Panama Canal. There was limited interest in Panama, then the northern province of Columbia, until gold was discovered in California after the Mexican War. As prospectors by the thousands scrambled to find the quickest way to get to California, a railroad was built across the isthmus of Panama whose stock quickly became the highest priced ...more
Rebecca
Jun 03, 2015 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The building of the Panama Canal is arguably one of the greatest feats of engineering the world has ever seen. As well as capping off an age of mechanical pride/hubris (steampunkers take note), it brought down a French government, utterly shifted the balance of power in South and Central America, changed the way we handle tropical diseases, and then at the moment of success, was completely overshadowed by the beginning of World War I.

McCullough does an amazing job of laying out all the numerous
...more
Joe Crane
Apr 30, 2016 Joe Crane rated it it was amazing
I grew up in Panama, and what struck me most about this book was the effort the French had put forth in their effort to build "the French cut" as we had spoken about at times. Although they weren't successful, the French laid an amazing amount of groundwork for the Americans to come in and finish up the job. At the end of the day, poor leadership from the hero of the Suez Canal (Ferdinand de Lessops) lead to the French failure.

The book itself is amazing. From Ulysses S Grant crossing the Isthmus
...more
Ann Evans
Nov 18, 2014 Ann Evans rated it really liked it
Since we were planning to transit the Canal this spring, this book was obviously a "must read." I'm not sure if the voluminous amount of material would be as interesting to someone who was not planning to actually go there.

The highlights of the book? The timing of planning the Canal was at an era in history when new advances were possible. The industrial revolution made the monumental task of excavation possible. And, one the Americans took over the project from the French, medical research was
...more
Grace
May 24, 2016 Grace rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Captivating, for the most part. David McCullough will always give a very detailed account of any story and he did that here with this magnificent engineering feat. I found freedom to glide through parts that were hard to appreciate but gladly waded through other fascinating descriptions, drinking in every detail. For instance, the battle against yellow fever waged by Dr. Gorgas was spell-binding as he fought against conventional ideas to eradicate the devastating disease from Panama. "The Great ...more
Loraine
Jan 01, 2015 Loraine rated it really liked it
This is such a great story that the only negative I can find is the level of detail. Some may love it for the accuracy and completeness but it was a bit much for me. I'd find myself skimming passages that were like : he said, then he said, then they responded, then so-and-so replied...... Then later I'd realize I'd missed something important and should have paid more attention.
It was the endless politics that I felt could have been summarized, so if you love this politicking, this book will be
...more
Mary
Jun 24, 2016 Mary rated it it was amazing
True Confession. I must have missed the day at school where we studied the Panama Canal. I had no idea that Colombia used to own Panama or that the canal was originally a French undertaking. In my mind, if I thought about the Panama Canal, I imagined lots of white males with yellow hard hats and huge equipment.

The large equipment part is correct. The Path Between The Seas describes this complex engineering project from deciding the location of the canal to the construction of the lock system. T
...more
Wendy Unsworth
Jul 31, 2015 Wendy Unsworth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exhaustive and exhausting!
I had wanted to read this book for some time having visited Panama and seen the mighty canal achievement for myself. The book is a challenge; long and densely packed with detail, some more interesting to me than others. At times I wanted the rambling political descriptions to be over. However I was fascinated by the in-depth history of the project in terms of medicine and the grave impact disease had on the whole enterprise. Panama is a place of stark contrasts with it
...more
Webster Bull
Apr 08, 2014 Webster Bull rated it liked it
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
Susan
Jan 29, 2012 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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)
Oct 05, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: History Lovers
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
Jan 03, 2013 Barksdale Penick rated it really liked it
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
Abbya
Jan 16, 2013 Abbya rated it liked it
"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
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Goodreads Librari...: Incorrect publication date 2 11 Apr 12, 2016 10:48PM  
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David McCullough has been widely acclaimed as a “master of the art of narrative history,” “a matchless writer.” He is twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, twice winner of the National Book Award, and has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

(update: His most recent book is The Wright Brothers, published on May 5th 2015 by Simon & Schuster.)

Mr. McCullou
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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
“patience which I assure you requires more force of character than does action.” 1 likes
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