Coming to Panama and need something to read? Check out our list of the most essential books about Panama you need to read. This article contains links to Amazon, from which, as an Amazon Associate, this website will earn a small commission if you make any purchases. Some other links are also affiliate links, where we’ll also make a small commission if you purchase anything after clicking, at no extra cost to you. Visit our Affiliate Disclosure Page for more info.
Of all the countries in Central America, Panama is the one most worth reading about. It’s the intrigue, you see. Political shenanigans, meddling gringos, and all that. Sure, we love books about Costa Rica, but compared to elsewhere, Costa Rica often feels a little tame (this is a good thing). Panama is where the action is.
Planning a vacation or considering a new life in Costa Rica? Get inspired and informed with this list of our favorite books about Costa Rica.https://t.co/7ctF3kBvt1
— Central America Living (@VidaAmerica) June 2, 2023
So, in our second article delving deeper into books about Central America, focusing country-by-country, we offer you some of our favorite books about Panama.
If you’re traveling to Panama on vacation or moving to Panama to start a new life as an expat in Panama City or elsewhere, you’ll want some reading material to get you in the mood. We hope the following books will inspire you in whatever Panamanian adventure you have in the pipeline. Let’s get started.
In no particular order, here are ten great books about Panama you need to read:
1. The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 by David McCullough
A highly acclaimed historical account of the construction of the Panama Canal, offering insights into the political and engineering challenges faced during its creation. This could be my favorite book about anything Central America-related and is essential reading for anyone interested in Panama and the wider region.
RIP David McCullough, his 700 page book on the Panama Canal somehow made an argument about engineering techniques read like a best-selling thriller https://t.co/An8oqMlhsi
— Mat Youkee (@matyoukee) August 8, 2022
2. The Tailor of Panama by John le Carré
A spy thriller set in Panama City, exploring the world of intelligence, politics, and deception as a British spy navigates the complex web of power and corruption.
3. Panama Fever: The Epic Story of One of the Greatest Human Achievements of All Time—the Building of the Panama Canal by Matthew Parker
A comprehensive history of the Panama Canal project, chronicling the immense effort, human sacrifice, and global impact of this engineering marvel. This book focuses more on personal stories than “The Path Between the Seas” and is a perfect accompaniment to that book for serious students of the Canal.
4. The Canal Builders: Making America’s Empire at the Panama Canal by Julie Greene
Another fantastic tome exploring all things Panama Canal. This book explores the social and cultural history of the Canal, focusing on the experiences of the workers involved and their impact on the region.
5. The World in Half by Cristina Henríquez
A novel about Miraflores, a young woman of Panamanian descent who journeys to Panama to uncover her family’s secrets.
6. Panama Red by David Edward
A rollicking Clancy-style thriller set around the adventures of a U.S. military special agent in Manuel Noriega’s Panama written by an Operation Just Cause veteran.
7. The Panama Papers: Breaking the Story of How the Rich and Powerful Hide Their Money by Frederik Obermaier and Bastien Obermayer
A fantastic book by two German investigative reporters uncovering the investigation into one of the 21st century’s biggest financial scandals to date.
8. Panama Fever: Digging Down Gold Mountain by W.B. Garvey
A novel about two West Indian workers recruited in the construction of the Panama Canal.
9. The Jolly Roger Social Club: A True Story of a Killer in Paradise by Nick Foster
We’ll be the first to admit this isn’t the best written book you’ll ever read. But it’s certainly one of the maddest. “The Jolly Roger Social Club” covers the story of Wild Bill Hobart, a gringo expat and serial killer in Bocas del Toro, who murdered his way through the expat community between 2007 and 2010. Any expat who was living in Panama or Costa Rica back in those days would remember this guy.
Island bartender, serial killer, con artist? Something is up with Wild Bill.
— Pretend Podcast (@PretendPod) July 5, 2018
10. A Creole from Bocas del Toro: The Story of Carlos Reid by Stanley Heckadon-Moreno
Staying in Bocas del Toro, this book covers the life of Carlos Reid, a Bastimentos resident in the first half of the 20th century and the society he lived in.
Is there anything in our list of books about Panama that catches your eye?
We hope so. Whether you’re backpacking the gringo trail and looking for some reading material to accompany you on that bit between Costa Rica and Colombia or you’re in Panama City looking for apartments, we hope these books will inspire, educate, and entertain you. Panama is a fascinating country and reading about the place will only enhance your overall experience. Enjoy!
James Dyde is the editor of centralamerica.com. He lives in Escazu, Costa Rica.