Panama, “The Beautiful”

Credit: Wikipedia Encyclopedia

Being a Panamanian citizen, I had the golden opportunity to read the best book ever written about the Panama Canal.  I’m referring to the book dubbed, “The Path Between the Seas” brilliantly authored by prolific writer David McCullough.

The book details people, places, and events involved in building the Panama Canal, one of the most magnificent human endeavors in the history of humanity only comparable to the construction of the great pyramids of Egypt. The title refers to the connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that the opening of the canal created in 1914.  The international waterway will be 100 years old in 2014.

David McCullough, 79,  is an American author, narrator, historian, and lecturer. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian award.

He is also the author of the following best sellers:  The Johnstown Flood, Truman, 1776, John Adams, Mornings on Horseback, The Great Bridge, and The Greater Journey.  McCullough’s two Pulitzer Prize-winning books, Truman and John Adams, have been adapted by HBO into a TV film and a mini-series.

In 1977, McCullough traveled to the White House to advise Jimmy Carter and the United States Senate on the Torrijos-Carter Treaties, which would give Panama control of the Canal. Carter later said that the treaties, which were agreed upon to hand over ownership of the Canal to Panama, would not have passed, had it not been for the book.

McCullough has been called a “master of the art of narrative history.” The New York Times critic John Leonard wrote that McCullough was “incapable of writing a page of bad prose.” His works have been published in ten languages, over nine million copies have been printed, and all of his books are still in print.

Below is an excerpt of what McCullough wrote about Panama in his book, “The Path Between the Seas:  The Creation of the Panama Canal (1870-1914):

“Most of the passengers got out for a look, and the overwhelming green of the landscape, the intensity and infinite variety of green under a cobalt-blue sky, caught them unaware.  Like so many before, they had come to Panama with little thought of being stirred by such landscapes.

That the place could be so breathtakingly beautiful struck them as a singular revelation.  ‘La plus belle région du monde’, de Lesseps exclaimed in a letter to Charles.

On the morning of may 4,1904 at the Canal company headquarters in Panama City Lieutenant Brooke formally received the French company’s assets for the United States and American control began. It is undoubted that the Americans benefited from the French experience, whereby many of the original problems were avoided and surmounted. Under the direction of the Isthmian Canal Commission, work progressed at a furious pace and after ten years of construction on a monumental scale , the canal was completed. It is fitting that the first vessel to pass through the Canal was the old French Craneboat ‘La Valley’ still in service for the Americans.

By August 15, 1914 the Canal was officially opened by the passing of the SS Ancon. At the time, no single effort in American history had exacted such a price in dollars or in human life. The American expenditures from 1904 to 1914 totaled $352,000,000, far more than the cost of anything built by the United States Government up to that time.  Together the French and American expenditures totaled $639,000,000. It took 34 years from the initial effort in 1880 to actually open the Canal in 1914. It is estimated that over 80,000 persons took part in the construction and that over 30,000 lives were lost in both French and American.

If you travel to Panama, you will hear the following expression often in the lips of its proud citizens; “Panamá, Puente del Mundo, Corazón del Universo.  (Panama, Bridge of the World, Heart of the Universe).

If you enjoy reading about history, or are related to Panama in any way, shape or form, this book should be part of your library.  It’s part of my Kindle e-books collection.  (Omar has a bright smile on his face.)  Good Day.

7 thoughts on “Panama, “The Beautiful””

  1. The first of McCullough’s books I read was “Truman”. In fact, it’s still sitting on my shelves. I’ve re-read it a couple of times, and he is, indeed, a great writer. I wasn’t aware of this one, and am glad you brought it to our attention. I’ve got a lot I want to plow through first, but it’s going on “the list”.

  2. Morning Linda:

    Now that you mention it, I recently streamed a motion picture from Netflix also called Truman. It was the story of this wonderful human being who happened to become the president of the United States after FDR died. He never thought this would happen, and was shocked when they told him he had to go to the Capitol to take the oath.

    They don’t make people with this high caliber nowadays. It’s sad that he had to make the tough decision of authorizing the dropping of two atomic bombs in Japan. But as they say, “A man’s gotta do, what a man’s gotta do”.

    I warmly hope you enjoy reading “The Path Between The Seas”. I plan to read it again to refresh my memories of this extraordinary endeavor.

    Enjoy the weekend,


  3. Omar:
    Casualmente empezé a leer este libro un par de semanas atrás. Yo me considero muy conocedor de la historia del canal, pero solo en las primeras 5-10 páginas aprendí 2 ó 3 cosas que no sabía acerca de los aconteciemientos antes del comienzo de trabajos de construción del canal. Espero aprender muchos otros secretos a medida que lea más.

  4. Hola Jaime:

    Estoy seguro que encontrará mucha más información que la que incluyen los textos tradicionales. Los acontecimientos de la separación de Panamá de Colombia son especialmente sorprendentes.



  5. I’ve read both Truman and John Adams and they are, indeed, gems. I was very interested in reading “Path” but when I was still living in Florida I was very much into listening to books from (I still am.) Unfortunately “Path” was only available in an abridged edition only 8 hrs and 22 min. long. (It’s now available unabridged at 31 and a half hours. Instead I opted for “Panama Fever” by Matthew Parker at nearly 18 hours. I’m not sure I want to listen to a rehash of what I’ve already gone through though I’m certain McCollough’s is so much more detailed.

    Just a bit of Audible info. . . McCullough’s version is store priced @ $56.65. If you have a membership with Audible the price is $39.65. However, if you have a “subscription,” as I do, with Audible you buy a fixed number of “credits.” My subscription brings the price of a credit to a bit over $10 each, so you can see what a bargain it would be to download something like this book.

  6. Hi Richard:

    I have a problem listening to audible books. Maybe, due to habit, I prefer the printed word. McCullough is indeed a remarkable writer with a concentration on details. When I have time, I plan to read his book, “Truman”. I recently saw the movie in Netflix.

    He was quite a character who got to be President of the United States by accident. He was elected Vice-President as a compromise due to quarreling inside the Democratic Party. He never imagined he would be Commander-in-Chief after the death of FDR. The rest is history.

    Take Care,


    1. Truman was actually the last U.S. president who didn’t have a college degree, but he was an extraordinarily well-read person. Here’s another bit of U.S. presidential trivia thrown in for free – our first president to be born in a hospital was Jimmy Carter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s