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The Path Between the Seas

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 is a 1977 history by David McCullough. The book won the U.S. National Book Award, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Samuel Eliot Morrison Award and the Cornelius Ryan Award. President Jimmy Carter later said that the treaty returning the Canal Zone to Panama would not have passed the Senate if not for McCullough’s book.

Because of the narrowness of the Panama isthmus, creating a canal had been a dream of European explorers for centuries. The Path Between the SeasFollowing the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, a French company decided that a canal across Panama was possible. The project was led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was able to raise substantial sums for construction.

In addition to engineering challenges, constructing the canal was beset by tropical diseases, including malaria and yellow fever, which struck the crews. The French project struggled from 1881 to 1889, when the company collapsed with only two-fifths of the project completed.

During the 1890s, the United States became interested in the project, formally taking control of the Canal Zone in 1904. Work continued for the next decade until the first ship was able to pass through on August 15, 1914. The Panama Canal revolutionized global shipping, saving 7800 miles on a sea voyage from New York to San Francisco.

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