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The Longest Line on the Map: The United States, the Pan-American Highway, and the Quest to Link the Americas

2.96  ·  Rating details ·  117 ratings  ·  32 reviews
From the award-winning author of American Canopy , a dazzling account of the world’s longest road, the Pan-American Highway, and the epic quest to link North and South America, a dramatic story of commerce, technology, politics, and the divergent fates of the Americas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The Pan-American Highway, monument to a century’s worth of di
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published January 8th 2019 by Scribner
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Average rating 2.96  · 
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David Eppenstein
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review and I thank them for the opportunity.

From the title of this book it appears to be a history of the PanAmerican Highway and it is, however, it also so much more that the book should probably be retitled as it cover 150 years of history and only about half or less deals with the titled highway. About the first 40% of the book covers the initial idea of building a Pan-American Railroad. Since this effort begins shortly after our Ci
Karen R
The author has clearly done exhaustive research into writing this book. He methodically exposes fascinating details of staggering engineering challenges and political obstacles to achieve the dream of the Americas united, which even after 150 years, remains unfinished with a 60-mile long break called the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia. I commend him for his time and effort into an extremely interesting topic. Thanks to Scribner for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was ok
Like many others before me, I have felt a fascination with the Pan-American highway since I first learned of its existence. Unfortunately, this book was a bit of a disappointment. It spent a lot of time talking about a proposed railroad, then about the history of roads in the U.S., diplomatic snafus on the way to agreeing to build the road. After that the author spent a disappointing amount of time talking about the actual building of the road.
Casey Wheeler
This book was a major disappointment. The subtitle "The United States, the Pan-American Highway and the Quest to Link the Americas" while addressed in the book, left a great deal to be desired. The first half of the book rambles on about early attempts to link the span with a railroad and only gets to the building of the highway later. The author;s writing style is not engaging and he tends to believe that a great amount of filler is needed to make the book look like more that it should be.

I can
Craig Pearson
Nov 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
I thoroughly enjoy books on history that read more like a novel than a dry textbook. this is one of those. Rutkow covers such a wide range of geography and social politics that it is impossible for the normal reader to verify the details he presents. When he covered the importance of theodore Roosevelt to the Western Hemisphere, primarily the Panama Canal, the author mentioned that TR earned his western chops while ranching in the Badlands of South Dakota. This is a jarring error that brings to ...more
Dawn Michelle
Murder. Mayhem. Conspiracy. Lunacy. Betrayal. Competition. Secrecy. Power. And money. Lots and lots of money. This book has all of these aspects and much more [think indigenous tribes and cannibals and bugs and snakes of unusual sizes].

Filled with all these issues, plus several Presidents [sitting and former]. a Secretary of State who's vision was way bigger than himself, Andrew Carnegie and the whole Mexican [and eventually all of Latin America] government, this book tells the story of trying
May 27, 2019 rated it liked it
This was a very interesting topic, presented by a professor of history, with a very scholarly, and somewhat dry approach. The title was also somewhat deceptive, since getting to the Pan-American Highway itself took about 200 pages of back story. With these two factors against it, I could not rank it higher.

It started off with a bang, with a terrific introduction kicked off by a long quote from On the Road about driving into Mexico on the Pan-American Highway. How could I not be intrigued? And as
Pop Bop
Jun 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
An Engagingly Skimmable Popular History

This would have made a brilliant two-part "New Yorker" long piece. It has that John McPhee wander about feel, and an approach that varies between too deep and too shallow. But the beauty is that if you're a decent skimmer you can turn pretty much any popular history into a manageable length. Adopting that approach I got along just fine with this book.

I was a bit surprised to start around the Civil War era, but of course Central and South America have been d
Dec 28, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-history
Perhaps useful to students of road building who wish to see how to fail to build a road. Others should stay away.

I apologize to the nice people at Netgalley and Simon & Schuster but I cannot give this book a better review. I think that this book's heart is in the right place but it just didn't hold my interest and it was too damn long.

I am the sort of tie tack who would normally lap up a history of a road, but this book promised too much and delivered to little. For example, when Jack Kerouac a
Brandon Bierley
Dec 25, 2018 rated it did not like it
If anyone should have liked this book, it's me. I work in trucking logistics for a railroad supplier. Why is that relevant? The first half of this book is about railroads - surprise! No mention of (automobile) highways comes in until halfway through the book. This book tries to do too much and does none of it well. I enjoy dry history books, but this book is painfully slow and unfocused. I took a break after slugging halfway through it to read another book and gave up when I tried to pick up the ...more
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Fascinating read on the challenges and history of what feels like the most basic of engineering: road building. Months later I am still discussing pieces of this book on the intersections between civil engineering and knowledge sharing, international development, political will, and private enterprise.
My biggest issue with the book is that hundreds of years of history across two continents with hundreds of names is hard to tame. The author does try to humanize each name and organize topics, but
Naim Peress
Apr 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
An excellent story about the drive for over a century to unite the Americas by rail and then road. It was interesting to see the idealism that drove this objective for over a century. The geographic features in Central America described in the book are fascinating, especially the Sierro de la Muerta (The Mountain of Death). I was also eager to read some Latin America history and I got my fix. In addition, it interested me to see how infrastructure within the U.S. itself required almost 30-40 yea ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lot of details about people going to Congress to keep asking for money to pave the road. I was thinking it would be more about US intervention in Latin America, and while that was covered briefly at points, it was quite a bit about logistics of railroads and then roads. The book is obviously very well researched but reads more like a textbook than an engaging history.

The author wrote from a dispassionate point of view so even in parts of the book that were more interesting, he didn’t create a
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history, nonfiction
I was expecting to really like this. American Canopy got high praise, and I enjoyed Earl Swift's history of the interstate highway system, The Big Roads. I expected colorful personalities, exotic Central American landscapes, tales of disaster caused by wildlife, terrain, and indigenous peoples. What I mostly got was a series of dry recitations of political disappointment interspersed with ever-larger grants of US funds, without, unless I missed it during my rapid skimming, even a grand total of ...more
Jun 22, 2019 rated it liked it
Nibbled away at this for several weeks. I suppose I was expecting more of an "armchair travel" book, but this turned out to be a full-on history text that I think was originally a PhD thesis. Interesting, but not quite what I had in mind. Also, significant chunks of the book are not about the Pan-American Highway at all: the first third of the book is on the Pan-American railroad effort, and another lengthy interlude is on U.S. road development. Another gripe would be that the book is almost exc ...more
Alicia Taylor
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating, if dense, book. While the title implies it is about the Pan-American highway, the story actually begins with the Pan-American railway.

It took me months to get through the book, which mirrored the incredible struggles by those trying to link the Americas through railways and highways. It’s not that it wasn’t interesting- it’s thorough and captivating. It’s just full - thick with countries and politics and geography and racism and engineering and war and revolutions coveri
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley, 2019
I saw this book on NetGalley and thought it would be an interesting read. I am not a geography or history scholar just a person that is interested in historical facts and stories. I think as such, this book was just a bit above my head. It was hard to read and slow going for me. There would probably be others more suited to reading and enjoying it.
Alex Stevens
Jul 26, 2019 rated it liked it
A little bit of a slog at different points, but after finishing and taking a step back I can say: It is a very illuminating look at the failed dream of Pan-Americanism, which is (perhaps deliberately) timely at a time where the U.S. government would rather build walls then link the two continents together via various infrastructure development projects.
Kimberly Brooks
Feb 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Fascinating and thoroughly researched...but also incredibly slow. Crazy (and somewhat sad) how many people, years, and dollars were put into making a Pan-American road a reality, for it not to become one (yet? ever?).
Steven Bragg
May 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
An entertaining read, though there are certainly a number of colorful diversions that branch quite a long ways away from the construction of the road itself. Also, there is almost no coverage of the road's construction any further south than Colombia.
Jun 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Well researched, very interesting and informative. But the professors personal opinions and asides caused me to knock off one star. Nonetheless a worthwhile read if you are interested in the history of the Pan-American Highway.
While a very interesting book on building a railway from one end of the Americas to the other, then drifting into a brief history of the road networks of the United States, then the last third touches on the Pan American highway.
Jul 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was fascinated by all the politics it took to build this road. Others have complained that it covers too much of things they feel are only incidental to the story but it’s all part of the process of building the road and the reason it’s not finished.
Mar 02, 2019 rated it liked it
The book is well researched, but needs better focus. Is it about a highway? A railroad? Pan-Americanism as a concept? I couldn’t tell.
Dada Vinci
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
shitty. Boring
Kevin Zwiefelhofer
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed the history as much as the long goal of uniting the hemisphere.
4.25 / 5.0

Well written not dry interesting take on Central America relations. Startling end. Amazing how little we know or understand our southern neighbors.
Rob Neyer
Aug 24, 2019 rated it liked it
I'd like to have read somewhat more about the Darien Gap, and somewhat less about almost everything else. But I realize that might just be me.
Danielle Mintzlaff
Apr 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I thought it was about someone driving the whole thing but it is about the history.
Apr 03, 2019 rated it liked it
Rutkow is a historian of the United States, and the "United States" part of the subtitle is not idle here: he's primarily interested in the United States government's efforts to organize and fund a land-based transportation link through the Americas. In practice, that means a lot of the Pan-American Highway barely shows up in the book: there's a brief passing allusion to the Al-Can Highway extending the network into Canada and beyond, and countries of South America are occasionally mentioned to ...more
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Eric Rutkow is an assistant professor of history at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and the author of The Longest Line on the Map. His first book, American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation (2012), received the Association of American Publishers’ PROSE Award for US history and was named one of the top books of the year by Smithsonian magazine. He earned his BA and Ph ...more

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