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

The Darkest Jungle: The True Story of the Darien Expedition and Americas Ill-Fated Race to Connect the Seas Audiobook, by Todd Balf Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Todd Balf Narrator: Scott Brick Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: September 2003 ISBN: 9781415901328
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (123 ratings) (rate this audio book)
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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 27-member U.S. 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 40-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 33-year-old U.S. 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 U.S. Darién Exploring Expedition’s 97-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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  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Summerglo | 1/7/2013

    " So much information that it was a little hard to follow. Enjoyed reading about the earliest expeditions to find the route between the two oceans. Basic navagational skills and much hardship for these early explorers. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Kim | 8/27/2012

    " 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. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Darrick | 2/28/2012

    " This just bored me to death. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Susan | 2/26/2012

    " Exploration of the Panamanian jungle. Not as exciting as some exploration books--a lot of setbacks for this group who started their explorations with a lot of faulty information. Interesting story, but it moves slowly. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Joshpenn | 11/23/2011

    " A great example of what not to do, if you're ever looking for a good time in central America towards the former half of the 20th century. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Alyce | 11/21/2011

    " Very interesting, engrossing read. An interesting chapter of American/Panamanian history I didn't know much about. The head of the expedition was from near my hometown, too. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Brett | 10/13/2011

    " 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. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 SunnyD | 9/6/2011

    " this was hard to get into, but an interesting read on one of the many expeditions to build the panama canal. somewhat gruesome and depressing though. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deb | 5/17/2011

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

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Mark | 12/21/2010

    " these explorers must have had a death wish. Painful to read. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Kim | 9/22/2010

    " 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. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Joshpenn | 3/28/2010

    " A great example of what not to do, if you're ever looking for a good time in central America towards the former half of the 20th century. "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Darrick | 4/22/2009

    " This just bored me to death. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Alyce | 3/27/2009

    " Very interesting, engrossing read. An interesting chapter of American/Panamanian history I didn't know much about. The head of the expedition was from near my hometown, too. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Brett | 6/15/2008

    " 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. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Deb | 1/16/2008

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

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Susan | 12/12/2007

    " Exploration of the Panamanian jungle. Not as exciting as some exploration books--a lot of setbacks for this group who started their explorations with a lot of faulty information. Interesting story, but it moves slowly. "

About the Author

Todd Balf is the author of The Last River and a former senior editor for Outside, is a contributing editor to Men’s Journal. He first traveled to Panama’s Darién in 1991, a memorably flawed crossing in which he and his companions traveled by foot, burro, and dugout canoe yet managed to see neither the Pacific nor the Atlantic.

About the Narrator

Scott Brick, an acclaimed voice artist, screenwriter, and actor, has performed on film, television, and radio. He attended UCLA and spent ten years in a traveling Shakespeare company. Passionate about the spoken word, he has narrated a wide variety of audiobooks. winning won more than fifty AudioFile Earphones Awards and several of the prestigious Audie Awards. He was named a Golden Voice by AudioFile magazine and the Voice of Choice for 2016 by Booklist magazine.