What Book To Read: Panama and the Panama Canal

March 28, 2023

Paul Kay

Are you a GoGo traveler looking for destinations, attractions, or new vacation ideas? Have you considered Panama? Madeline’s father served in WWII and was stationed in Panama. The building of the Panama Canal was quite an achievement. At the time, it was considered one of the new wonders of the world. If you are looking for what book to read, we have you covered. If you are looking for what movies to watch, I even have DVD recommendations for you. Here are some of the best books to read and movies to watch about Panama and the Panama Canal.

Our Reading series is provided as a supplement to our posts. Whenever we travel, we like to learn as much as we can about our destination. Since we’ve read books and watched movies we've learned a lot. Hopefully some of these might give you a more in-depth and entertaining view of the topic you just enjoyed.


Before we visited Panama, we wanted to read up on the history of Panama. We also were very interested in the history of the Panama Canal. You can see our blog posts on Panama History and the Panama Canal by simply clicking the link.

A History of Panama and its Development

by Farnham Bishop

This book is one of the few that treats Panama as a country before talking about the Panama Canal. If you’d read our post on Panama History, you know about the indigenous Panamanians and how things changed when the Spanish explorers came and conquered. This book gives a much deeper coverage of Panama’s beginnings.

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

by David McCullough

The author, David McCullough, has twice received the Pulitzer Prize, for Truman and John Adams, and twice received the National Book Award, for The Path Between the Seas and Mornings on Horseback. I have read many of his books and they are always great.

The book is long at over 700 pages, but it is well worth your effort. He takes you from the beginning with the French efforts to create the canal. The French had already shown great engineering talent by completing the Suez Canal. When the French effort failed, the US was interested in a Nicaraguan Canal. McCullough takes you through the twists and turns of that story and the eventual support of the Panama against Columbia. The final section goes into great detail about the construction of the canal itself. It’s a great read.

Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama (American Encounters/Global Interactions)

by John Lindsay-Poland

This book is from the perspective of an investigative journalist. It details the love/hate relationship between the US and Panama over centuries. It particularly focuses on the US Military who performed secret chemical weapons testing during the 1960’s. He also investigates the US for the disposal of the tens of thousands of explosives it left undetonated when the canal zone was turned over to Panama in 1999. The book is told from the perspective of the Panamanian people and discloses some harsh facts about the US military while they controlled the Panama Canal Zone.


American Experience: Panama Canal

This is a wonderful documentary on the building of the Panama Canal created by PBS. Just seeing the efforts of the men with gigantic machinery all around is amazing. This was the beginning of the 1900’s and the ability of the men and equipment and engineering process is amazing. You will definitely enjoy this if you are planning to see the Panama Canal.

NOVA: A Man, a Plan, a Canal – Panama

By now, you probably know that I think that David McCullough is pretty special. This Nova special followed his award-winning book. If you don’t think you can handle McCullough’s 700 page book, this one hour visual journey will give you many of the important facts – but clearly not all of them. Nova and McCullough do a great job with the visuals and commentary.

Read More

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Fun Facts About Panama
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