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The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas
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The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas

3.60  ·  Rating details ·  386 ratings  ·  35 reviews
Based on the vividly detailed log entries of the U.S. Darien Exploring Expedition, this is a rich, utterly compelling historical narrative that will thrill readers who enjoyed "Isaac's Storm," the accounts of the Shackleton expedition, and all similar sagas of adventure at the limits of endurance.
Hardcover, 331 pages
Published December 30th 2003 by Crown (first published 2003)
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Average rating 3.60  · 
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 ·  386 ratings  ·  35 reviews

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Dec 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Around the Worlders
A nice chronicling of the Strain Expedition to discover a route through the Panama isthmus for a shipping canal. Interesting, educational, a well-written account of suffering, adventure and courage.

I did find the construction of this audiobook a little odd as the first 5 cds told the story of the expedition, the next 2 discussed what happened to the members of the expedition after it was over and the last one was an epilogue narrating the author's own attempt to retrace the route. Although, I l
Sep 28, 2012 rated it liked it
I had never heard about the Darien Expidition but decided to give this book a try. It's not a bad book. Interesting and educational. A good little bit of history. If I had a stronger interest in the subject matter I probably would have found the book very good. It's not a bad book though. I definitely learned a few hings about this event and don't regret my decision to read it.
Dec 26, 2016 rated it liked it
I agree with Kim; I had a hard time connecting with the characters in this book. Nevertheless, I found the history and many challenges faced by the party pretty interesting.
Sep 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
I was surprised that this wasn't more interesting. Seems like just the kind of adventure story I'd love but I never really connected with the characters in this one.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas by Todd Balf looks at the history of an early but unsuccessful attempt by the US to plot out a possible route to build a canal across the isthmus of Panama. The military and civilian team that made the attempt in 1870 worked from written documentation from earlier explorations and hoped to build on that and determine the best route for a canal through Darien Province that lies between Pan ...more
Tom Oman
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this book simply because I live in Panama and I have been looking for obscure histories of this country. However, as other reviewers say, the subject of this expedition is quite interesting but you could not present it in a more dull way than the author has managed to do here.

That jungle is a harsh place, especially for such unprepared people. It’s hard to believe that the government could sanction such a ramshackle expedition as this one. I recently read a book on Lewis And Clarke, which
Eric Atkisson
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this hoping to learn more about the Darién, the Kunas who live there, and some of the early attempts to cross it, and I wasn't disappointed. The central story about Isaac Strain's doomed expedition is particularly haunting. The author did a good job weaving in a lot of historical research but humanizing the story by focusing on Strain and some of the other central characters involved. Good stuff. Worth reading if you're interested in this sort of thing.
Kayrene Smither
Aug 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, audio
I seem to be drawn to historical events, where "man" is taken to the very edge of survival: Everest, Bataan Death March, Unbroken...countless more. Amazed at what these men endured in this expedition to map out and discover a possible route for a link from the Pacific to the Atlantic; which eventually became the Panama Canal. Incredible difficulties; disease, unbelievable insect infestations, starvation, being very unsure of their location, and yet, with a glimmer of hope, they continued on. Lov ...more
Steve Bera
Feb 14, 2018 rated it liked it
Not the best jungle exploration book I have read, but half of the book was very good and kept my attention. Not a main line exploration story, but certainly has some merits. I am surprised more people didn't die on this adventure. I did order another book by this same author, so that says something. I would read it again, and would give it 3 1/2 stars if I could.
May 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-goals-2017
The middle part about the expedition itself was fascinating and a real page turner. But the beginning and end were a tad meandering. I found myself skimming a lot at the beginning when he was establishing the initial attempts to explore Darien. But it was still an interesting read though I would only suggest it to people who find the subject matter engaging.
Todd Martin
Apr 19, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, outdoors
The Darkest Jungle is the story of an expedition led by Isaac Strain in 1854 to find a route across the Isthmus of Dariénin in Panama. This was at a time before construction of the Panama Canal as a shortcut was being sought between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans enabling people to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America. Not only did Strain not discover a shortcut but, due to some unfortunate decisions, the trip turned into a struggle for survi ...more
Julian Walker
Feb 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you are looking for harrowing adventure and dramatic exploration then this is your book.

Sometimes a little wordy, this is an extraordinary tale of true grit and determination, political intrigue and social commentary and paints a clear picture of the difficulties of such physical extremes compared with polite society.

An extraordinary slice of history.
Todd Balf's "The Darkest Jungle" is a wonderful account of the Darien expedition, which marched its away across a section of Panama jungle in the hopes of determining a route for the much hoped for Panama Canal.

The expedition, led by Isaac Strain, relied on bad information and marched its way in the wrong direction, following the wrong river through a dense tract populated by terrifed natives (who fled their villages, burned their homes and hacked apart their canoes to keep them out of the white
Mar 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened
A trifle over-embellished, but the story is so fantastic that it would feel like a disservice to tell it in anything other than a shrouded, campfire mood. I started listening to the audiobook while we were in Panama and finished it off over several days when we returned. It allowed me to stretch the feeling of adventure I had visiting this mysterious and often contrary part of the world just one week longer, sneaking gradually back to my humdrum day-to-day existence.

I recommend it to anyone trav
Oct 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shackelton in Central America. This book chronicles the tragic story of the Issac Strain expedition to find/survey a route for a possible canal across the Isthmus of Darien. Like Scott & Shackelton who followed later, this is a "Man against nature" story as the survey crew becomes lost, and then must battle the Central American jungle for survival.
Well written, it also provides a bit of historical perspective on the Central American Isthumus some 50 years or more before the building of the P
Feb 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Great subject matter about a time and place when men were courageous and selfless and noble and gutsy. My guess is that the editor loused Balf's book up. When reading DJ, there are plenty of moments when the editors chop can be felt. Balf did huge research on his subject, but the finished product doesn't really add up to an awesome experience. What is awesome is the degree to which Balf goes into the past to unearth long forgotten secrets. This is also a noteworthy book in that it evokes awarene ...more
Jimmy Tarlau
Dec 12, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened-to
I found this to be enjoyable though had to buy the book (used) so I could look at the maps while listening to it in the car (when I stopped!). This is a story of one of the early expeditions to try and find a water route through the Panama isthmus. It was 50 years before the building of the Panama Canal and ended up being somewhat of a disaster with a number of the people in the party dying during the trip. It is well written and is part of a genre that I enjoy - stories of those people who have ...more
Robert Melnyk
Dec 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Pretty interesting book about the exploration of the Darien area in search for a route to build a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. I learned quite a bit about the history of the effort to build this canal. This book was about an exploring expedition that was searching for a route for the canal in the Darien area which is east of where the canal would eventually be built. Interesting story of exploration and survival.
Arleen Shulman
Oct 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
Warning to those who listen on audiobook: there is no indication there are footnotes until you get to the next to last chapter. The last 45 minutes are all endnotes. Not good. Also, I had a hard time following the journey with those maps I could get online.
Dec 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Exploration of the Panamanian jungle. Not as exciting as some exploration books--a lot of setbacks for this group who started their explorations with a lot of faulty information. Interesting story, but it moves slowly.
Jun 03, 2012 rated it liked it
So much information that it was a little hard to follow. Enjoyed reading about the earliest expeditions to find the route between the two oceans. Basic navagational skills and much hardship for these early explorers.
Sep 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
Interesting read about finding a route that connects the oceans in South America. Well written but the book didn't grab my interest like other exploration books have. I don't think this was the fault of the author but the subject matter.
Jun 15, 2008 rated it liked it
A pretty interesting account of a miserable trip through the jungle. The book started a little slowly, but picked up once the adventure began. It's no "Heart of the Sea", but still not a bad read.
Elva Paulson
Oct 19, 2016 rated it liked it
Too much introduction (about the first third of the book), but once the actual expedition started I throughly enjoy the insight into this not very well known bit of history about the Panama Canal.
BOOK:1853 expedition by U.S. Lt. Strain to find a Panamanian canal route thru inhospitable Darien wilderness
Jun 14, 2007 rated it liked it
this was hard to get into, but an interesting read on one of the many expeditions to build the panama canal. somewhat gruesome and depressing though.
Mar 28, 2010 rated it it was ok
A great example of what not to do, if you're ever looking for a good time in central America towards the former half of the 20th century.
Nov 13, 2014 rated it it was ok
An interesting subject, so I don't really know why I could not quite get into it.
Dec 11, 2012 added it
Shelves: nonfiction, papi
Christmas present 2012 for my sweetheart.
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