From the award-winning author of American Canopy, a dazzling account of the world’s longest road, the Pan-American Highway, and the epic quest to link North and South America, a dramatic story of commerce, technology, politics, and the divergent fates of the Americas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Pan-American Highway, monument to a century’s worth of diplomacy and investment, education and engineering, scandal and sweat, is the longest road in the world, passable everywhere save the mythic Darien Gap that straddles Panama and Colombia. The highway’s history, however, has long remained a mystery, a story scattered among government archives, private papers, and fading memories. In contrast to the Panama Canal and its vast literature, the Pan-American Highway—the United States’ other great twentieth-century hemispheric infrastructure project—has become an orphan of the past, effectively erased from the story of the “American Century.”
The Longest Line on the Map uncovers this incredible tale for the first time and weaves it into a tapestry that fascinates, informs, and delights. Rutkow’s narrative forces the reader to take seriously the question: Why couldn’t the Americas have become a single region that “is” and not two near irreconcilable halves that “are”? Whether you’re fascinated by the history of the Americas, or you’ve dreamed of driving around the globe, or you simply love world records and the stories behind them, The Longest Line on the Map is a riveting narrative, a lost epic of hemispheric scale.
Eric Rutkow is an assistant professor of history at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and the author of The Longest Line on the Map. His first book, American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation (2012), received the Association of American Publishers’ PROSE Award for US history and was named one of the top books of the year by Smithsonian magazine. He earned his BA and PhD from Yale and his JD from Harvard.
“Rutkow offers a richly detailed examination of efforts to build a highway from Alaska to the tip of Argentina… A fresh, well-documented account of U.S.-Latin American relations.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Rutkow’s excellent, thoroughly researched, and unusual look at this complicated mix of infrastructure innovations and international relations will engage a variety of reading tastes.” —Booklist
“Everybody loves a shaggy dog story. A good one should be long and implausible but still on the edge of possibility. The chronicle at the heart of Eric Rutkow’s The Longest Line on the Map seems to qualify. The story involves the decades-long attempt to construct thousands of miles of railway—and, later, highway—to ‘link the Americas.’” —The Wall Street Journal
“Rutkow's fascination with the Pan-American highway is evident in this meticulously researched and vividly recounted drama. He 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.” —Shelf Awareness, starred review
“A powerful argument against Washington’s growing embrace of isolationist policies at home and abroad. Highly recommended for U.S. and diplomatic historians, geopolitical scholars, and general readers.” —Library Journal, starred review
“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.” —Boston Globe