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Panama Fever: The Epic Story of the Building of the Panama Canal    by Matthew Parker Amazon.com order for
Panama Fever
by Matthew Parker
Order:  USA  Can
Anchor, 2009 (2008)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

In this brilliant historical epic (that rivals and in some ways exceeds David McCullough's mighty tome, The Path Between the Seas), Matthew Parker - author of The Battle of Britain and Monte Cassino - tells a tale that will not be read lightly. Those looking for a quick, short story about how the Panama Canal was built should turn away now. For those wanting to know the extent of back-breaking labor, how many lives were lost, how many companies and families were bankrupted, and how many countries were brought to both war and shame, Panama Fever is the book for you.

Dividing his account into three large chunks, Parker begins with Columbus' arrival in American and the original idea to create a passage across the narrowest part of Central America, providing access to the great Pacific Ocean. It wasn't until centuries later that plans were begun to actually create a canal through Central America, linking the two great oceans.

In the second part, The French Tragedy, readers learn that France was one of the first countries to begin excavating in an attempt to create a canal. It was organized and run by the great Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps, who was already popular and famous after the successful completion of the Suez Canal. The Panama Canal project was to be his life's greatest work. His undoing lay in his demand that the canal be made all on one even level, which was an impossibility. Thousands and thousands died from malaria or yellow fever, due to the swamps (ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes) coupled with primitive medical techniques. Labor was imported from Jamaica, but the fever had no preference for skin color or class standing. The project was forced to stop and restart multiple times due to a combination of these factors, and the extreme cost and incorrectly predicted timeline.

In The American Triumph, readers learn how President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed that a US-controlled Panama Canal was vital to American industry and to protect and defend the United States from attack. With Panama under Colombian control, Roosevelt instigated a coup though he vehemently denied it for Panamanian rebels to overthrow their Colombian rulers. Then the US went in, taking over Panama after lying to them about their proposed freedom. Work was begun on the canal, which was finally completed in late 1913.

Panama Fever is a book that holds nothing back, giving all the gritty details, the body counts, the political slandering and corruption, as well as the amazing history of how this little canal became such a major historical undertaking. It's filled with numerous photos, illustrative maps, and diagrams where necessary, leaving readers feeling satiated with knowledge about the Panama Canal and its historic, albeit tainted, creation.

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