For literature concerning the natural habitat of Panama, its forests, birds, insects, and wildlife, head straight to the Corotu Bookstore at the Smithsonian in Panama City on Roosevelt Avenue in Ancon (tel. 212-8000); you won't find a better selection anywhere. Many of the books listed here can be ordered from a Web-based book dealer such as Amazon.
General Interest & History
Emperors in the Jungle, by John Lindsay-Poland (Duke University Press, 2003), digs deep into the history of U.S. military involvement in Panama during the past century. Panama, by Kevin Buckley (Touchstone, 1992), is a gripping read by a former Newsweek correspondent who vividly describes the events leading to the overthrow of Manuel Noriega. Another probing insight into the failure of U.S. policy that led to the rise of Noriega and the invasion is The Noriega Mess: The Drugs, the Canal, and Why America Invaded, by Luis E. Murillo (Video Books, 1995), but prepare yourself for 900 pages.
A People Who Would Not Kneel: Panama, the United States and the San Blas Kuna, by James Howe (Smithsonian Books, 1998), tells of the powerful resistance by the Kuna Indians to set their own terms against invading Europeans and a Panamanian government intent on flattening their culture and relegating them to inferior social status. The Art of Being Kuna: Layers and Meaning Among the Kuna of Panama, by Mari Lynn Salvador (University of Washington Press, 1997), is a beautifully illustrated guide to the arts and culture of the Kuna.
The Panama Canal
Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough (Simon & Schuster, 1978), brings the epic history of the building of the canal to life with McCullough's meticulously researched book — a whopping 704 pages. How Wall Street Created a Nation: J.P. Morgan, Teddy Roosevelt, and the Panama Canal, by Ovidio Díaz Espinoso (Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001), is a page-turning account of the intrigue and back-door dealings between a group of Wall Street bankers and lawyers who paved the way for the construction of the Panama Canal.
A Guide to the Birds of Panama, by Robert S. Ridgley and John A. Gwynne, Jr. (Princeton University Press, 1992), is the layman’s bible to identifying the many birds you’ll see during your visit, including tips on where you’re most likely to see them. Most guides and nature lodges have a copy of this book on hand, although it’s always smart to have your own. A good all-around book to have is Carrol L. Henderson’s The Field Guide to the Wildlife of Costa Rica (University of Texas Press, 2002). Although it’s a Costa Rican guide, this book is useful in Panama since these two neighboring countries are home to much of the same fauna.
Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rainforests of Central and South America, by Adrian Forsyth and Ken Miyata (Touchstone Books, 1987), is a passionate, lucid exploration of the interrelationships of flora and fauna in the tropical rainforest. The Neotropical Companion, by John C. Kricher (Princeton University Press, 1999), is tremendously popular with field guides, giving a lively and readable overview of ecological processes at work in the neotropics. Juan Carlos Navarro, the former mayor of Panama City, is the author of a glossy coffee-table book, Parques Nacionales de Panamá (Balboa Ediciones, 2001), featuring gorgeous photos of national parks in Panama and the flora and fauna found within.
Music and Films
Ruben Blades may be an international movie star and Panama’s former Minister of Tourism, but he found fame as a salsa singer/ songwriter. He’s made dozens of CDs, but you might want to check out Tangos (2014), the Grammy-nominated Eba Say Ajá (2011) or Lo Mejor, Vol. 1 and 2 (2004), his greatest hits over his decades-long career.
The Panama Deception (1992) is an interesting documentary that aims to tell the truth about the 1989 invasion of Panama by the U.S.
The Tailor of Panama (2001) is an excellent spy-thriller starring Pierce Brosnan, Geoffrey Rush, and Jamie Lee Curtis and centers around the transfer of power of the canal from the Americans to the Panamanian people during the post-Noriega years.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.