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Panama Fever: The Battle to Build the Canal Hardcover – 1 Mar 2007
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"An epic tale of human folly and endeavour, beautifully told and researched" (John le Carré)
"Matthew Parker has picked a fascinating subject and written a book worthy of it. His narrative is compelling, his ability to weave a pattern from the topics he has to cover quite remarkable. It's a story of engineering, labour relations, disease, financial crises, politics, idealism and skulduggery. It is peopled with a host of characters, some heroic, others corrupt, almost all out of the ordinary. There isn't a dull page, and if this book isn't a candidate for all the non-fiction prizes going, I shall be disappointed." (Allan Massie Daily Telegraph)
"Parker's epic story, from the 18th century to the present day, is awesome." (The Times)
"Parker has written the Panama story for a new generation. He quotes extensively from letters and diaries of ordinary workers writing home to their families. And it is their heartfelt views on the conditions in which they lived and worked that really bring this book to life." (The Economist)
"Parker's great forte in Panama Fever is to bring this complex story to life through a succession of vivid characters" (Sunday Telegraph)
The brilliantly ambitious, epic story of a thirty-year battle against the elements, disease, impossible terrain and massive financial collapse to create one of the most extraordinary engineering feats in world history.See all Product description
Top customer reviews
Just one adverse comment; the editing is a bit lax, for example the author refers to the uniform that the labourers were requited to wear and describes the "shirt and trousers" but the "r" in "shirt" is missing.
You should read "El Caballo de Oro" by Juan David Morgan first - this is an account of the construction of the railway across the Isthmus woven around the romance of the marriage of one the principal promotors. Fascinating.
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 clearly 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: and the years of disaster didn't just finish him but came close to bankrupting a generation of French investors. 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, it should be said, also completed it.
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 a historical epic 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!