“The Path Between The Seas” By David McCullough

Ridgway State Park, Colorado

October 12, 2020

Note: There are some limitations I face when writing these posts on my iPhone, the most important one is that it is harder to edit. So I offer this blanket apology for any thinkos and typos - I accept responsibility. I guess I’m saying I’m accountable. 🤙

This audiobook has been my companion during the evenings the past couple of weeks. McCullough gets into the details - this book by no means is a summary of the building of the Panama Canal. It is a story of personal ego, national pride, making decisions based on prior successes, small investors falling for a sales pitch, and imperialism. It is also the story of the incredible difficulty faced by those in Panama actually doing the work - the challenges they faced in terms of terrain, weather and disease. Parts of the story made me cringe as it reminded me of my own experiences dealing with large infrastructure projects and the sponsors confidence that they are able to accurately forecast the cost and schedule of such projects.. There is a hubris in that belief. All our fancy scheduling and costing software programs give us a false sense that we can identify and quantify all risks and uncertainties. But there are always unknown unknowns.

For me, there were other interesting takeaways. I had no idea the French had started the development of the project. That there was a debate as to whether the canal should be located in Nicaragua or Panama and whether it should be just a waterway without locks.

It is also a reminder that sometimes in life the best strategic play is to let another party take the first step and when they faulted (run out of cash) to jump in with new money and a fresh perspective. That’s how a lot of investors make a lot of money - smart money after dumb money.

A great/good read/listen. Quite a story.

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