Friday, March 7, 2014

Books to read - Panama Fever: The Epic Story of the Building of the Panama Canal

Having always had an interest in history and especially in scientific & engineering marvels I wanted to know more about the canal and its builders. So before reaching the canal I read the book by Matthew Parker telling the tale of this feat.

Panama Fever starts with the hopeless and desperate venture of the french Ferdinand de Lesseps in 1881. Having built the Suez Canal he tried to repeat this again at the Isthmus of Panama. Although the plan of a canal at sea level was not feasible Ferdinand clung to it until the near end when the company went bankrupt.
Later on the United States bought the remains of the company and with it the rights of building a canal through (then) Colombia. With support from the U.S. Panama declared independence and the construction could continue.
More then 33 years after turning the first sod the canal opened, using three set of locks and some artificial lakes to make the passage from Atlantic to Pacific possible.

The book follows the lives of the different people which worked, lived and not seldom died for this huge project to succeed. The Isthmus back then was one of the deadliest parts of the world: hot and humid with tropical diseases as yellow fever or malaria, land slides and the mighty Chagres river took then thousands of lives before the sicknesses where cured, swamps drained and the river dammed.