Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Pathway Between the Seas - a review

David McCullough wrote Pathway Between the Seas (PBS) which is about the building of the Panama Canal, one of the greatest building achievements in world history.

I just finished this book on Sunday but had started in February. It is a very long book, around 600 pages, but I enjoyed it. McCullough does a great job of funneling many details and descriptions into many different themes, based on a single thread.

Why it is a such a good book
I most enjoyed the characters in PBS. McCullough does a great job of tying in many different biographies and placing them in the context of the building process. One of my favorite parts was the U.S. political battle as to where the canal was going to be built and how Panama became an independent nation.

How a 600 page book can be a quick read
PBS is a very long book filled with a lot of detailed information and it is easy to get lost in all of it. I'm not sure if this is a weakness of the book. McCullough does a great job of controlling the amount of information given to the reader, but the nature of the topic causes it to lean toward too much information. I found it best to pay attention to the main characters and do my best to remember their names. (Even if they weren't easy to remember.) Also, I tried to hold onto the main theme of each chapter, which was not too hard to do because the writer is a master at creating narratives.

Who should Read it
If you enjoy history and are comfortable weeding through a lot of details while holding on to a main theme, I would suggest that this would be a good summer read. The length of the book is challenging, but it is definitely worth reading.

What I learned
One general idea I gleaned from this book was that large movements are often controlled and determined by individual leaders. The failure of the French was caused by the naivete and ignorance of the French leaders. The success of the Americans was caused by the tenacity, organization skill and discipline of individual leaders. It surprised me that even such a large project as the Panama Canal (Its scale is massive, absolutely incredible. The locks that were built are so big that they would be part of the sky line in New York City. Only the Empire State Building and a couple other skyscrapers would be larger.) would be greatly determined by individuals. It helped me realize why one's individual actions can have momentous consequences for other people around us.

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Thank you for your comment, I'll review it as soon as I can!