Top positive review
A Masterwork of research and storytelling about one of the engineering marvels of the modern world
Reviewed in the United States on June 22, 2016
Having seen the canal in person in 1978, and leaving thoroughly amazed at this masterwork in engineering, I've read various shorter accounts of the project in years since. But nothing comes close to this masterwork of scholastic research. I can't imagine a more thorough, comprehensive, end-to-end history of one of the most amazing and successful efforts mankind has ever attempted in terms of overcoming nature and geography. I knew of the previous French effort, and was also aware of the "Nicaragua" option, but to read of the intrigue, the politics, and the personalities that tried, failed, and influenced the ultimate outcome is riveting. It took the total commitment and faith of the United States Presidents (Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson) over 14 years to do what they seldom do - make a decision, fund it, and then leave it to the hands-on experts to make the real decisions in how to get it done. That, more than anything, seems to come through as the foundation for success. Having been in the tropics, and Panama, in more modern times one can still see the rampant jungle literally a few miles from civilization. To imagine the thousands of workers toiling day after day in the wet, mud, and unbearable heat is mind boggling, yet they did it. There were parts of the book where I thought it bogged down in minutiae, reading almost as minutes of endless rounds of meetings among French and/or U.S. politicians, lobbyists, lawyers, and those in authority for building the canal "on the ground" in Panama, but in the end I have only praise for David McCullough - it wouldn't have been a complete story without all of those background details. It was a stupendous effort, and it required a stupendous effort by a gifted researcher and writer to document it, and David McCoullough has done just that. Read about one of the engineering marvels and wonders of our modern day world. You'll be glad you did.