From the award-winning author of American Canopy, an account of the world’s longest road, the Pan-American Highway, and the epic quest to link North and South America, a story of commerce, technology, politics, and the divergent fates of the Americas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Meticulously researched and vividly recounted ... [Rutkow' combines a historian's eye for detail with a storyteller's skill at bringing to life the dynamic political and social forces that conceived and constructed the international corridor ... a worthy, thought-provoking read for anyone interested in learning about a time when the 'Colossus of the North' opened its doors in friendship and unity to the rest of the Americas.
Rutkow paints convincing portrayals of technocrat-heroes like Logan Page and Thomas MacDonald at the federal road office, who handled their jobs with efficiency and prudence even while commanding staggering amounts of money. At times, the book reads like an executive summary of the various conferences organized to promote the highway, while potentially colorful episodes are brushed over. Rutkow is a superb fact-hunter ... Yet not every quotation about the highway feels necessary to the story, and there’s a paucity of description of the road itself or its surrounding landscape. And for such a well-researched book about a bicontinental project, there’s another strange omission. The route through South America receives precious little attention, with almost all the focus trained on United States policy toward road-building in Central America. Rutkow is a graceful writer with a penchant for well-placed classical allusions, yet he possesses a distracting literary tic: a heavy reliance on the adverb 'finally,' which occasionally occurs twice on the same page ... The narrative finds its highest velocity near the end, with a fascinating section on a North Carolina schoolteacher’s efforts to bushwhack his way through the Darien Gap, and Richard Nixon’s stated desire to drive the finished road himself in time for the 1976 bicentennial.
Rutkow takes you through every intricate permutation of the planning, sometimes to the point of exhaustion. At times The Longest Line on the Map resembles a relay race, with smart, young, hardy engineers and diplomats thinking they can tame this infrastructural beast, only to cede their ground decades later as death, disease, or sheer weariness overcome them ... It’s a testament to Rutkow’s skills at distilling information that he keeps the dozens of players clear in your mind as his narrative proceeds. He even delivers some droll quick-sketch portraits of the variously ornery, perverse, or valiant characters involved.