The Panama Canal

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

We hear often of the great adventures but not the flawed ones. We know of Shackleton’s astonishing second voyage to the Antarctic but not his fatal, aimless third. The French entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps attempted to build two great canals. He succeeded wildly with Suez and failed utterly with Panama. In this excellent book, David McCullough tells the story of the spanning of the isthmus, starting with de Lesseps. The book is a wonderful characterization of big idea men. Lesseps thought big all the time. His grandiose vision served him well in Suez and ruined him in Panama, where he insisted, against a growing mountain of evidence, that the canal must be cut straight across at sea level. Panama was ultimately conquered by the industrious Teddy Roosevelt and his swarms of well-organized industrious yankees. One interesting observation that comes out in this book: the Panama canal could not be built any faster today than it was back in 1914.