The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914

Version: Abridged
Author: David McCullough
Narrator: Edward Herrmann
Genres: History
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Published In: June 2003
# of Units: 8 CDs
Length: 9 hours
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The National Book Award–winning epic chronicle of the creation of the Panama Canal, a first-rate drama of the bold and brilliant engineering feat that was filled with both tragedy and triumph, told by master historian David McCullough.

From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Truman, here is the national bestselling epic chronicle of the creation of the Panama Canal. In The Path Between the Seas, acclaimed historian David McCullough delivers a first-rate drama of the sweeping human undertaking that led to the creation of this grand enterprise.

The Path Between the Seas tells the story of the men and women who fought against all odds to fulfill the 400-year-old dream of constructing an aquatic passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It is a story of astonishing engineering feats, tremendous medical accomplishments, political power plays, heroic successes, and tragic failures. Applying his remarkable gift for writing lucid, lively exposition, McCullough weaves the many strands of the momentous event into a comprehensive and captivating tale.

Winner of the National Book Award for history, the Francis Parkman Prize, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, and the Cornelius Ryan Award (for the best book of the year on international affairs), The Path Between the Seas is a must-read for anyone interested in American history, the history of technology, international intrigue, and human drama.

Reviews (13)


Written by Anonymous on October 30th, 2019

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Fascinating story even if you did not know you were interested in the Panama Canal. Plus, it is hard to beat Edward Herrmann as a narrator. McCullough is a master storyteller and a bestselling author for good reason. You do not have to love history to enjoy his books/topics. It says this audio book is an abridged version, which makes it an easy listen. I loved every detail, but it could be more than some desire. (Disclaimer: I have a degree in history and love it.) I felt like they probably included everything that was both pertinent and that gives the reader (listener) a well-rounded picture without the exhaustive detail that may have been in the book. I do not know if the book was as detailed as his book on Truman, (I listened to all 54 hours of the audio book on Truman). I do agree with another reviewer that the abridged version occasionally leaves you wondering how you got from one thing to the next, but then you remember it is abridged and you are fine. You realize you did not miss something and easily jump into the next topic. I do recommend looking at a map of Panama or even finding something historical related to the canal. It is not essential, but it helps if you like to place the key locations McCullough references throughout the book in your mind and understand the path of the canal (which is not in a straight line across the isthmus).

Truly Outstanding

Written by Albert from Annapolis, MD on October 6th, 2014

  • Book Rating: 5/5

David McCullough writes about history in a way that suits me right down to the ground. If you liked 1776, then you will enjoy The Path Between the Seas. Mr. McCullough is the master at ferreting out the key events upon which the historical outcomes pivot. In this case, a narrow vote In the Senate and the competence (genius) and hard work of two professionals made all the difference. Without them, yellow fever and malaria would have defeated the work force. Without them, the excavation could never have proceeded fast enough. Thank you for the insights, Mr. McCullough.

Written by Debbie Farrow on October 6th, 2013

  • Book Rating: 4/5

I wanted to love, love, love this audio book because of my personal connection with the Panama Canal, but found it to be a rather dry read. The narration is beautifully done in an authoritative tone. It is a book filled with great detail (even some facts I didn't know after living in the Canal Zone for so many years). I recommend it for anyone with interest in the Canal or a penchant for history.

Path Between the Seas

Written by Home Boy from Rochester, WA on July 29th, 2011

  • Book Rating: 5/5

Wow, unbelievable what they did. This book chronicles the ups and downs of this gargantuan effort. Well written, thoroughly engaging.

The Path Between the Seas

Written by Douglas Carney on December 6th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 3/5

Not one of the better David McCullough books. Too much time spent on the pre-building politics and not enough time spent with the actual digging details. It was really slow toward the middle but then picked up again before the end.

McCullough being McCullough

Written by Shane Nixon from Burlington, NC on April 3rd, 2007

  • Book Rating: 3/5

I have developed this sort of affection for the Panama Canal and the history surrounding it. I am a history buff. I like David McCullough. If all those things are true for you, you are going to love this book. I one or two of them is, you will like it. If only one is true, you might simply enjoy it for a while. If, however, none of those is true for you, even McCullough's mastery as a historical story teller will most likely not be enough. Just to much detail. I enjoyed it, just thought it was a little long.

Great McCullough

Written by Anonymous from Norwich, VT on January 27th, 2007

  • Book Rating: 4/5

The facination with the Panama Canal is easily satified with this excellent book. History that I did not know and corrections of some that I thought that I knew. I find a great desire to travel the canal just to view the places painted in the pages of this excellent book.

path between the seas

Written by Lee Werley from Chapel Hill, NC on December 6th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 3/5

I enjoyed this story but it could have been shorter. I learned more about the canal than I every remember hearing about. My wife spent several months living at the canal before I met her and we were able to discuss the canal in greater detail.

Interesting history of the Panama Canal

Written by Anonymous from South Windsor, CT on October 4th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 3/5

The book was pretty good. I haven't read much non-fiction literature, so I don't have much to compare by, but the story was engaging and the pace kept your attention. The narrator was un-offensive, even pretty good. He even threw in a few accents when he was reading a quote. My only major complaint is the abridgement. There were a few times where I felt I must have suffered a memory lapse, left wondering "how'd we get here", before I remembered the book was abridged. The book traces the history from the French attempt at building the canal to the completion of it by the Americans. It covers mostly the political aspects surrounding the project but also discusses the work/health/living conditions of the workers. There wasn't much technical description of the canal itself until the end of the book.

Great Story!

Written by Juan Herena from Chicago, IL on July 5th, 2005

  • Book Rating: 4/5

I thoroughly enjoyed this audiobook. The failure of the French attempt to build the canal was dramatically told, and contrasted with the Americans' resolution to apply advances in medicine, engineering, and transportation to avoid the same fate. McCullough doesn't lionize the Americans, however; his account of the political machinations undertaken by Theodore Roosevelt and others to prise Panama out of Colombian control is unsparing. It was precisely this kind of ruthlessness that eventually succeeded in fulfilling a great dream.

Author Details

Author Details

McCullough, David

David McCullough was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As a student at Yale he met the author Thornton Wilder, and after considering careers in politics and in the arts, was inspired to become an author. While at Yale, he met his future wife, Rosalee Barnes, a student at Vassar.

After college McCullough moved to New York City and worked as an editorial assistant at Sports Illustrated. "Swept up by the excitement of the Kennedy era," he moved to Washington and became an editor and writer at the United States Information Agency. While in Washington, he also worked part time for American Heritage. In 1964 he became a full time editor and writer for the publisher he sometimes calls "my graduate school."

By this time David and Rosalee had married and started a family. He wrote his first book at night and on weekends while working full time. The Johnstown Flood, inspired by the great catastrophe that struck his native region in 1889, was an unexpected best-seller in 1968. Its success emboldened him to quit his job and commit to a full time writing career.

Since then he has published a series of distinguished works of history and biography, all of which have won enormous popularity with the reading public. The Great Bridge (1972) recounted the building of Brooklyn Bridge. The book has served as the basis of a memorable documentary film, which was nominated for an Academy Award. McCullough's own voice was heard as the narrator of this film, of Ken Burns's The Civil War, of The Johnstown Flood, and as host of more than one public television series, including The American Experience and Smithsonian World.

McCullough's story of the Panama Canal, The Path Between the Seas (1977) was an instant best-seller, acclaimed by the publishing industry and the historical profession. It was honored with the National Book Award for History, the Cornelius Ryan Award, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award, and the Francis Parkman Prize from the American Society of Historians. It also helped influence history, playing an important part in determining the nation's policy concerning the future of the Canal. It had a profound influence on American policy and public opinion in the late 1970s, as the country debated the future of the Canal.

In Mornings on Horseback (1981), McCullough recounted the youth of President Theodore Roosevelt. The book won McCullough a second National Book Award, this time for Biography. In the 20 years since, McCullough has taken a special interest in the lives and character of America's presidents. He was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for his biography of President Truman, and he is frequently called upon to discuss the presidency in the news media.

At the time of his interview with the Academy of Achievement, David McCullough had begun work on a dual biography of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The second and third presidents were allies in the struggle for independence but became bitter rivals in the early years of the republic. After their back-to-back presidencies, they became reconciled and carried on a warm and fascinating correspondence for the rest of their lives. By an extraordinary coincidence, they died on the same day, July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of America's independence.

As his work on the book progressed, McCullough became increasingly intrigued with the character of John Adams. Convinced that Adams had not received his historic due, in comparison with the more celebrated Jefferson, McCullough decided to devote his entire book to Adams. The result topped the New York Times best seller list from the week it went on sale, and won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

David and Rosalee McCullough live in West Tisbury, Massachusetts. They have five children and many grandchildren. McCullough writes every day in a studio behind his house. "I would pay to do what I do," he told an interviewer. "How could I have a better time than doing what I am doing?"