Written by David McCullough. Like most of you, all I knew about the Panama Canal was the tidbit I was told in elementary school. “We built a canal at Panama because it was the shortest distance between the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean so we didn’t have to go around the horn of South America…” Be honest with yourself — did you really learn more than that?
I got the idea to read about the Panama Canal from The World Without Us which I read a short time ago. There was an incredibly interesting three-page summary about what would happen to the Panama Canal if humans simply disappeared. Those three pages stayed with me and I began searching for a book on the Panama Canal.
David McCullough, known mostly for Truman and John Adams (which became an HBO mini series), wrote this book. And let me tell you, he blows you away. The Panama Canal is a huge story with heroes, villains, spying, government back-stabbing, revolutions, and the construction of the greatest engineering feat in the history of mankind.
I had no idea that the French had tried to build the Panama Canal and failed, nearly bankrupting their own country. There is a story of Yellow Fever and Malaria and the doctor who tried to convince people that mosquitoes were responsible for transmission of the disease while others thought he was ridiculous. Did you know that we almost went to war with Columbia and helped Panama with their revolution so we can build the canal…and the men behind the scenes who were pulling the strings.
The story of the canal was most impressive and I’m a smarter man for having read it. But most of all, you gain an appreciation for the magnitude of what men were able to accomplish in the early 20th century. The spirit of man and what we are capable of doing never ceases to amaze me.
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