Review: “The Path Between the Seas” by David McCullough

The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 by David McCullough. Simon & Schuster. 698 pages.

So, here’s the question. Do you ever really like an author, read a couple of his books and really, really like the way he writes? You find a book that he’s written that you haven’t read yet, it’s a winner of the National Book Award, and you know it’s guaranteed to be a great book, wonderful book? You hear from friends and critics that it is absolutely wonderful. You put it on your wish list, and your wife finally buys it for you as a Christmas gift. She even writes a loving phrase inside the cover, knowing how much you are looking forward to the book.

And then you actually read it. And….well…something is missing.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely LOVED 1776, McCullough’s book about the beginnings of the United States, and his book about the Johnstown Flood was fabulous. My two favorite categories of books are science fiction and historical. But this? This was…meh.

The Path Between the Seas is about the creation of the Panama Canal, which the book proposes was the greatest engineering feat the world has ever seen, perhaps greater than getting us on the moon. But the book spent half the book on the political aspects of France’s raising money for it, and whenever a new person was introduced, McCullough went into incredible detail about that person’s origins and background. I found myself dragging through the book. It wasn’t until I got to the last part of the book, when the United States got involved that it picked up somewhat. Even so, it wasn’t much beyond watching paint dry.

I hate to say it. Especially when so many critics think this book is absolutely wonderful. But I was BORED. I will give the author credit for thoroughness, but that very aspect is probably what made the story–all 698 pages of it–pretty intolerable for me.

I give it two out of five stars. Sorry, David.