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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book
I loved this book. The Panama Canal story is an extraordinary, epic tale and Matthew Parker's marvellous account more than does it justice.

The book is written with a sure feel for the grand sweep of history: the unprecedented engineering challenge, the daunting geography of the mountainous Panamanian jungles, the strategic imperatives, the complex and...
Published on 19 Nov 2008 by Daniel Hillman

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hell's Teeth!
As a social history this book tells a fascinating story very well but if you're looking for engineering detail you're likely to be disappointed. Approaching the end of 380 or so densely-packed pages you'll still be reading about vegetables in workers' shops, trying to decipher quotes in pigeon-English and wondering what the chapter entitled 'The Digging Machine' (at...
Published 9 months ago by P. Griffin


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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book, 19 Nov 2008
By 
Daniel Hillman (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal (Paperback)
I loved this book. The Panama Canal story is an extraordinary, epic tale and Matthew Parker's marvellous account more than does it justice.

The book is written with a sure feel for the grand sweep of history: the unprecedented engineering challenge, the daunting geography of the mountainous Panamanian jungles, the strategic imperatives, the complex and fascinating finances, and the heart-rending and totally unforeseen logistical difficulties that turned dreams to nightmares.

At the same time the author has a wonderful nose for characters and this book has a rich and compelling cast to propel the story along. Parker clearly is a fine historian and one of the most impressive aspects of this book is the original work he has done in scouring the archives to deliver a wealth of original written accounts - letters, diaries, company memos, political machinations, and so on.

The structure of the story is fascinating. The canal was begun by the French, expected to be the crowning glory of the man who built the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps. It was a disaster. Panama didn't just finish de Lesseps but came close to bankrupting a generation of French investors too. The canal then went into a second, very different phase, after the rising power of the United States took it over as the keystone of a very modern strategic vision of the future. The Americans got it built with ruthless efficiency.

Parker devotes roughly half of the book to each phase, and the contrast is amazing - between, if you like, the Victorian era of Jules Verne fantasies and the modern age of skyscrapers and internal combustion engines. All this helps to make this story not just epic history but also a very modern tale of engineering on the grand scale.

All in all I heartily recommend this book. I read a lot of non-fiction and this has been one of the treats of the year. Buy it!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, 21 Jun 2011
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Ifor H. Smout (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal (Paperback)
I took a bit of convincing to buy this book - the title and the reviews of readers finally persuaded me. So pleased I did. An enthralling read - especially in the context that this could be such a dry (sorry) subject but the author expertly conveys the intrigues, tragedies and cast of exuberant characters in a historical and political context that captures the interest and imagination.Yes I would have liked a bit more on the engineering challenges as one reviewer suggested, but that is perhaps the source of a different book as its inclusion would have made this account unwieldy.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hats off (best Panama pun I could think of) to this fine book, 24 Oct 2010
By 
Mr. A. Weston (Chessington, Surrey) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal (Paperback)
I picked this book up mainly on the basis that "Hell's Gorge" is an interesting title. I must admit I then reacted cynically on finding out that John Le Carre gave it the thumbs-up; I hadn't got the man down as either an historian (as he studied languages at university) or an expert on the Panama canal, so the fact that he was approving it made me slightly dubious - a little bit like me heartily endorsing something I know nothing about ("Mr Weston says our infra-red goggles are 'the best on the market'" isn't really going to persuade anyone.) In the end I was swayed by the allure of the glossy old photographs that feature, and the fact I felt I needed a third book for my trip.

And thank goodness I did. This is an exceptionally interesting work that doesn't alienate the reader, despite the complexity of how a canal actually operates (I foolishly thought it was just basically a trench filled with water, which it's not.) Parker explains things in great detail but at sufficient pace; my lack of any engineering knowledge meant only that I identified more with Lesseps than the other, rival theories of canal construction (Lesseps basically saying that to build the canal you dig a trench and fill it with water.)

The book takes the reader through both serious efforts to build the canal, one by Lesseps and the French in the 1880s and the other, successful, American effort a decade or so later. Whilst reading I suddenly realised why Le Carre was been quoted as an approved reader - this story has intregue, plotting, secrecy, double-dealing, human catastrophe - and quite a bit of pig-headedness. Stuff, essentially, from a Le Carre book. Except this was real, which makes it better.

Not only that but the characters are so vividly portrayed that I now need to go and read biographies of Lesseps and Teddy Roosevelt, as my curiousity has been aroused by this tome.

So buy and read this book. I'm not John Le Carre, but I'm with him all the way on this. Just don't trust me on infra-red goggles.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cheers, Matthew, 21 Jan 2014
By 
D. Whitehead "Stagsman" (Leeds, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal (Paperback)
This is one of the best history books I've ever read. Other reviewers have given the detail so my review will be short. Hell's Gorge took me a while to read. Like a good pint or a fine wine it is complex and has to be savoured slowly. Immensely enjoyable down to the very last drop. Cheers Matthew for a book of rare vintage.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hells Gorge, 7 July 2013
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R. Hodgson (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal (Paperback)
Well written engaging, I have read The Path Between the Seas by David McCullogh several times...Hells Gorge is similar but I think more readable...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fasinating, 17 Mar 2013
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This review is from: Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal (Paperback)
Reaaly interesting . Almost put me off visiting, but will view with an informed eye next week
I am ready with anti all bugs !!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, 1 Mar 2013
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Excellent history of how and why the canal was built and the political intrigue surrounding it. I would recommend it to history students.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The story of an extraordinary achievement which helped to shape the modern world., 16 Nov 2012
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I really enjoyed this book, which vividly describes the technical, political, financial and medical challenges faced in this unique undertaking. Above all, the author brings to life the often tragic stories of the men and women who made a contribution to the various phases of this long drawn-out project.
I bought this book just before leaving recently for a cruise which included the Panama Canal. I finished it well before reaching the Canal, so it was a great help in visualising the immense scope of the construction process.
There will be an increased global focus on the Panama Canal in 2014, which is the centenary of its opening and is also the target date for the completion of a massive new channel that will run parallel with the existing structure. I would thoroughly recommend this book for anyone who wants to gain an appreciation of the human triumph involved. Matthew Parker is a great story-teller and I am currently enjoying The Sugar Barons, his account of the hugely profitable and volatile early sugar industry in the Caribbean islands.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Feverishly Good Read!, 8 May 2011
This review is from: Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal (Paperback)
Hell's Gorge acheives that elusive goal which every non-fiction work strives for - a combination of page-turning excitement toegether with a wealth of well-researched factual detail. And while it is superficially a book about the relatively narrow subject of a canal, it is in fact so much more - a mix of history, geo-politics, medical science, engineering and the personal dramas of love, life and (sadly) death. A recommended read for anyone.
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4.0 out of 5 stars It never was a ditch!, 27 May 2013
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Originally proposed by a Spanish priest in the16th, started by the French in the 19th and completed by the USA in the 20th century. A tale of imagination/vision, ambition, greed, extravagance, disease, racism but above all the remarkable resourcefulness that is mankind.
Even if you have no interest in the canal it is an incredible story well told.
As read on a Kindle thee were virtually no pictures. Shame!
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Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal
Hell's Gorge: The Battle to Build the Panama Canal by Matthew Parker (Paperback - 6 Mar 2008)
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