Philippe Bunau-Varilla was a remarkable man. He was also a very controversial figure. In this book, Gustave Anguizola prefers to tell us how remarkable Bunau-Varilla was and to ignore the controversy, or to treat it with contempt. One wishes he had opted for a more balanced approach, because Anguizola seems especially qualified to tell the Bunau-Varilla story.

Anguizola met Bunau-Varilla over forty years ago, and a book about Bunau-Varilla has been germinating in his mind ever since. This study is enthusiastic and personal. Anguizola was born and reared in Panama. He knows the land, and his father, uncles, grandmother, and personal acquaintances (old-timers) have related their experiences to him about the construction of the Panama Canal during both the French and American phases. He established contacts with Bunau-Varilla’s family, conducting a valuable correspondence with Philippe’s only daughter, Giselle, and collecting other data and memorabilia from a grandson, Philippe Bunau-Varilla II. He studied the papers at Stanford University of Francis B. Loomis (the United States assistant secretary of state in 1903), and corresponded with and interviewed Loomis’s daughter, Florence. This research provided fresh insights into the career of Bunau-Varilla and led to the conclusion that Bunau-Varilla and Loomis conspired to make the Panama revolution, which may solve one of the riddles of that episode—the role of the United States. Anguizola has made an important contribution, but, paradoxically, his study is flawed.

Anguizola’s bibliography does not include the Bunau-Varilla papers deposited in the Library of Congress. It appears that he consulted them, because there are six footnote references to these manuscripts. But six references to a collection comprising over fifty letter boxes! One is completely puzzled by this methodological lapse. Perhaps Anguizola felt that Bunau-Varilla’s published memoirs, which he cites extensively, covered the essence of the collection; but if one goes through the collection carefully, it is very difficult to dismiss as lightly as Anguizola does such aspects as the relationship between Bunau-Varilla and William Nelson Cromwell or the allegations that someone made a great deal of money in the Panama affair. One wants to believe in the altruism of Bunau-Varilla, but it is not enough to say simply that he was too rich to be motivated by the opportunity for monetary gain. If only Anguizola had formulated the tough questions before he tapped new sources, he could have made an interesting book a great book.