Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Path Between the Seas - David McCullough

An engineer friend at work lent me The Path between the Seas to read, and I decided to read it during my lunch hours. I wasn't so sure this was my kind of story, but he's an interesting guy, and he's led me to fascinating new territory before, so I started right in. I found that many days it was hard to tear myself away from it and get back to work.

You might not think that a story about digging a big ditch would be riveting reading - but David McCullough makes the history so compelling, and he chooses his stories so carefully, that it had to be good reading. I had read his 1776 and John Adams and both were quite rewarding. The canal tale is actually full of political intrigue, accounting and financing schemes on a scale to bring down national economies, and towering figures, some of whom embodied the spirit of the time (Ferdinand de Lesseps and Theodore Roosevelt) and some of whom would provide a foretaste of the age to come (George Goethals). The book brings the enormous engineering challenges to life with vivid details and connection to the human element. The story also helps to explain the start of our troublesome relations in Latin America, and it casts light on the sad story of the decline of France from a major power in the mid 1800s, to the nation that would suffer defeat in the Franco Prussian War.

The history of the canal also showcases the rise of certain types of management, medicine, government, revolution, social reform, and political campaigning. It proves repeatedly that even in global events, the focus and vision of one charismatic or highly efficient person can turn the tide - and that person need not be in office or a national figure.

I found it was almost worth the entire read just to get the nuggets of dialog between Teddy Roosevelt and ANYONE else. I need to find a good biography of TR. I wonder if Mr. McCullough wrote one... well look at that, he did.


DebD said...

My husband is a big TR fan (although "fan" isn't really the right word), and I recently listened to the John Adams bio by McCullough and thoroughly enjoyed it. I shall be looking out for this one at the library.

Amy @ http://hopeistheword.wordpress.com said...

Sounds very interesting! Thanks for the review!

Framed said...

I'm a huge TR fan as well. After reading about his childhood, it's amazing that he turned out to be so brilliant and charismatic. There are several good biographies out there on him, but I can't remember the authors. I'd like to read McCullough's because he researches so well and makes the history so intriguing. Glad you enjoyed this book. I found it fascinating.