A first-rate drama of-mobilization and diplomacy "not unlike that of war." When fifteen years of struggle by Suez veteran Ferdinand de Lesseps to build a canal through the Panamanian isthmus collapsed through tropical disease, logistical barriers, and financial disgrace, two Americans managed literally superlative accomplishments: moving billions of cubic yards of dirt, harnessing one of the world's most savage rivers, developing an unprecedented lock and electrical system—and, not least, defeating the Anopheles mosquito. In an open, vigorous style, the author of The Johnstown Flood (1968) and The Brooklyn Bridge (1972) contrasts the manic-depressive attitudes of French and American populations and leaders toward the canal with the cool perseverance of his two heroes: the engineer John Stevens, a former common laborer who took charge of the collapsing canal project and realized that the problem was not digging but transportation; and Dr. William Gorges, who conquered malaria and yellow fever in a region where hospital rooms used to literally shake from patients' chills. Ironically, it was the often jingoistic "Manifest Destiny" rhetoric and the medical experience of the brutal Spanish-American War that provided Congressional backing and scientific leads for the Panama task. A further twist was the origin of the Panamanian republic which permitted the canal to go through: French adventurer Phillippe Bunau-Varilla executed a coup against Colombia in 1903 for "the greater glory of France," then, according to McCullough, promptly put the new nation and its treasury under the wardship of the US State Department and the House of Morgan respectively. Meanwhile, viewing the French example, Congress so feared possible graft in Panama that it threw horrific red tape around the canal project. But Stevens was able to recruit the greatest engineering minds of the period—and the book is able to recapture their breakthroughs.

Pub Date: May 1, 1977

ISBN: 0671244094

Page Count: 708

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1977

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet