I Took Panama: The Story of Philippe Bunau-Varilla

Written by Rodolfo M. Leiton
Review by Steve Donoghue

The star of Leiton’s taut, unassuming short novel is French Colonel Philippe-Jean Bunau-Varilla, a pivotal figure not only in the planning and construction of the Panama Canal but also in the planning and construction of Panama itself, having helped that country to break away from Colombia.

In quick, resonant chapters, Leiton takes readers through five decades in the life of this remarkable but largely forgotten figure, along the way illuminating the power-players and historical events of the early 20th century with dozens of well-chosen black-and-white photos scattered throughout the text.

Even readers of David McCullough’s fine history of the Panama Canal, The Path Between The Seas, will find new perspectives and new insights in Leiton’s very enjoyable novel.