2014 is the 100-year-anniversary of the panama canal: one of the most extraordinary engineering feats in world history. Hell's Gorge traces a heroic dream that spanned four centuries: to build a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The human cost was immense: in appalling working conditions and amid epidemics of fever, tens of thousands perished fighting the jungle, swamps and mountains of Panama, a scale of attrition comparable to many great battles. Matthew Parker explores the fierce geo-political struggle behind the heroic vision of the canal, and the immense engineering and medical battles that were fought. But he also weaves in the stories of the ordinary men and women who worked on the canal, to evoke everyday life on the construction and depict the battle on the ground deep in 'Hell's Gorge'. Using diaries, memoirs, contemporary newspapers and previously unseen private letters, he draws a vivid picture of the heart-breaking struggle on the Isthmus, in particular that of the British West Indians who made up the majority of the canal workforce.
Hell's Gorge is a tale of politics, finance, press manipulation, scandal and intrigue, populated by a dazzling cast of idealists and bullies, heroes and conmen. But it is also a moving tribute to the 'Forgotten Silvermen', so many of whom died to fulfil the centuries-old canal dream.