I’m tempted not to review this book. I don’t like long books. I don’t enjoy much non-fiction, and I certainly don’t seek out history texts. So The Path Between the Seas, weighing in at more than 600 dense pages, wasn’t the type of book I’d pick out for myself. My wife gave me this tome before our cruise through the Panama Canal, so I felt obligated to give it a try.
It seems unfair to rate and review a book I’m destined to detest, but McCullough’s striking detail brought the difficult birth of this most amazing engineering achievement to life. Unfortunately, I was only a third of the way through when we departed for our cruise, but as soon as we returned, I picked it right back up again.
The people in this story–de Lesseps, Gorgas, Taft, Rooseveldt, Banau-Varilla–are portrayed so vividly, it’s hard to believe they aren’t characters in a work of fiction. But McCullough is a real historian, and there are 40-50 pages of notes at the end of the book that leave little doubt that every detail woven into this utterly comprehensive narrative is factual.
If you’re used to modern fiction’s lean prose, McCullough’s long, winding sentences might be off-putting, but I found myself acclimated to them after just a couple pages. McCullough covers the economics and engineering of the canal with the same dexterity as the people, the events, and the historical context.
If you ever plan to visit the Panama Canal, this book is a must. But even if a passage isn’t on your bucket list, the book should be on your reading list.