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Download The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darién Expedition and America's Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas Audiobook

Extended Audio Sample The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darién Expedition and Americas Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas, by Todd Balf Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (123 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Todd Balf Narrator: Ray Child Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Abridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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“Commit yourself to the Virgin Mary, for in her hands is the way into the Darién—and in God’s is the way out.”

The Darkest Jungle tells the harrowing story of America’s first ship canal exploration across a narrow piece of land in Central America called the Darién, a place that loomed large in the minds of the world’s most courageous adventurers in the nineteenth century. With rival warships and explorers from England and France days behind, the twenty-seven–member US Darién Exploring Expedition landed on the Atlantic shore at Caledonia Bay in eastern Panama to begin their mad dash up the coast-hugging mountains of the Darién wilderness. The whole world watched as this party attempted to be the first to traverse the forty-mile isthmus, the narrowest spot between the Atlantic and Pacific in all the Americas. 

Later, government investigators would say they were doomed before they started. Amid the speculative fever for an Atlantic and Pacific ship canal, the terrain to be crossed had been grossly misrepresented and fictitiously mapped. By January 27, 1854, the Americans had served out their last provisions and were severely footsore but believed the river they had arrived at was an artery to the Pacific, their destination. Leading them was the charismatic commander Isaac Strain, an adventuring thirty-three-year-old US Navy lieutenant. The party could have turned back except, said Strain, they were to a man “revolted at the idea” of failing at a task they seemed destined to accomplish. Like the first men to try to scale Everest or reach the North Pole, they felt the eyes of their countrymen upon them. 

Yet Strain’s party would wander lost in the jungle for another sixty nightmarish days, following a tortuously contorted and uncharted tropical river. Their guns rusted in the damp heat, expected settlements never materialized, and the lush terrain provided little to no sustenance. As the unending march dragged on, the party was beset by flesh-embedding parasites and a range of infectious tropical diseases they had no antidote for (or understanding of). In the desperate final days, in the throes of starvation, the survivors flirted with cannibalism and the sickest men had to be left behind so, as the journal keeper painfully recorded, the rest might have a chance to live. 

The US Darién Exploring Expedition’s ninety-seven–day ordeal of starvation, exhaustion, and madness—a tragedy turned “triumph of the soul” due to the courage and self-sacrifice of their leader and the seamen who devotedly followed him—is one of the great untold tales of human survival and exploration. Based on the vividly detailed log entries of Strain and his junior officers, other period sources, and Balf’s own treks in the Darién Gap, this is a rich and utterly compelling historical narrative that will thrill readers who enjoyed In the Heart of the Sea, Isaac’s Storm, and other sagas of adventure at the limits of human endurance.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Balf has written a compelling, tragic story, reviving an adventure overshadowed, sixty years later, by the successful completion of the canal.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Balf's colorful account of the venture is compelling reading.”


Listener Opinions

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Brett | 11/4/2013

    " A pretty interesting account of a miserable trip through the jungle. The book started a little slowly, but picked up once the adventure began. It's no "Heart of the Sea", but still not a bad read. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 by Kim | 11/9/2012

    " I was surprised that this wasn't more interesting. Seems like just the kind of adventure story I'd love but I never really connected with the characters in this one. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Deb | 10/13/2012

    " Be amazed at just what an incredible accomplishment was the building of the Panama Canal! "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 by Darrick | 6/27/2012

    " This just bored me to death. "

  • > Show All
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