This is an engaging study by a professional writer with a facility for scientific and technical subject matter. It deals essentially with the process of construction of the Panama Canal and with the Canal builders. It does not concern itself with the political or diplomatic aspects of the Canal, except where the builders themselves were involved in such activity, to wit: Ferdinand de Lesseps and Philippe Bunau-Varilla. Even so, the author spends as much time describing the techniques of drilling and excavating in the Culebra Cut and the production of stone for the “concreting” of the Pedro Miguel Locks as he does discussing the Panama Revolution. This is, however, a statement of fact not a criticism, because this is what the book’s subtitle suggests, and the author presents all his material enthusiastically and intelligently. If one finds romance in a Bucyrus shovel or Porter locomotive or Lobnitz dredge, then he will enjoy this book.
The specialist may not be similarly rewarded. The book, as knowledgeable and beguiling as it is, is a review of Gerstle Mack, The Land Divided, and Miles P. DuVal, And the Mountains Will Move. It relies heavily upon these and other secondary sources and does not present much that is new, except for the geological data in chapter one and the information extracted from the Canal Record, which appears in the chapters toward the end. The author is a close ally of Mack in his efforts to restore the good name of de Lesseps, including that of the self-sacrificing son, Charles. His insistence that the American engineer, John F. Stevens, never received adequate credit for his part in the construction of the Canal is the same complaint which Captain DuVal made years ago, but which, at the same time, DuVal took care of very nicely. In listing the dozen individuals who contributed most to the construction of the Canal, the author should get little argument for ranking Stevens second, but one might object to his failure to place a Panamanian, particularly since he includes a number of non-engineers, such as, Theodore Roosevelt, William Nelson Cromwell, and Lucien N. B. Wyse. Surely, Manual Amador Guerrero or José Agustín Arango deserves a place on the list.
The book is strong as a digest and in its presentation, but is quite thin in basic research and analysis. Somewhat as the chemistry teacher who admires (and envies) Mr. Wizard for what he does, I respect the author’s abilities, but I cannot recommend his work as serious scholarship.