Juan David Morgan

The Golden Horse

Novel, Ediciones B, Spain, 2005.  Planeta 2017

Many people know the story of the Panama Canal, but few know that of the Panama Railroad: the first transcontinental railroad of the Americas that was built during the California Gold Rush. From 1851-55, a handful of adventurers and inventive engineers drove the enterprise to tame the unexplored jungle wilderness that would soon become the first inter-oceanic railroad, link the U.S. to Central America and change Panama forever.

The Golden Horse by Juan David Morgan is an engrossing and sweeping saga that paints a vivid and personal portrayal of the events that transpired as a result of the commercial rivalry between New York shipping magnates, William Aspinwall and Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the enormous personal cost that was borne by the people involved in the construction of the railroad.

Thousands of people died during the construction of the railroad, succumbing to tropical diseases and natural disasters. Despite the danger, the lust of gold fever and the challenge of conquering the wilderness drove the protagonists through the perils of torturous journey, cutthroat competition, ruthless outlaws, savage jungles, and violent cultural clashes, but not without the thrill of romantic adventures, the wonder of human inventiveness, and rugged determination to succeed.

Intelligent and elegant in its prose, this epic tale provides a stunning marriage of history and love, technology and nature, triumph and tragedy that is truly unforgettable.


“The work of Juan David Morgan is pedagogical literature, didactic literature, always needed in our country.”

J. Armas Marcelo -Writer

“The historical novel should be a conduit for the reader to experience time travel and learn through literature, research and imagination. When this type of work is well done, it becomes a true reference paper … That is the reason why Panamanian Juan David Morgan’s input with his novel “The Golden Horse” (Ediciones B) is so valuable.  The Golden Horse tells the adventure that was the construction of the railroad that would link the Atlantic and the Pacific through the Isthmus, which undoubtedly constitutes one of the most extraordinary and dangerous transportation and communication enterprises that man has undertaken in recent centuries.

The novelist, already an expert on the field of the narrated history, achieves the task of making real characters feel close to the reader by the end of his 448 page book.  Toward the last pages one feels like an old acquaintance of Colonel George Totten, engineers James Baldwin and Minor Story, Captain Cleveland Forbes, cowboy Randolph Runnels, Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, the thief Tim O’Hara, entrepreneurs William Aspinwall, George Law and Peter Eskildsen and journalist Elizabeth Benton Freeman.

Juan David Morgan uses resources such as testimonies, letters, reports, journals and newspapers to give a human quality to his work thus avoiding being linear in telling stories of sacrifice, love and solidarity. “

Daniel Domínguez – Critic and journalist

“… Whoever it might be that would like to know about the origins of the first railroad that linked two oceans, the financing of the magnificent work, the struggles to overcome the obstacles of this warm, rainy, unhealthy, wild and very little developed land in the mid-nineteenth century, should read this novel and get to know those who built it risking not only their health but also their lives. It must be said that while the skeleton of the novel is the history, well told and rigorously accurate, in my opinion the most important aspect of this tale, what in English is called “the emotional flesh” flows like a stream emanating from the fertile imagination of the author for whom literature is not an escape from reality, but its counterpart, as important and dangerous as itself. In other words, for those who are passionate about history, myself included, the recounting of real facts become pleasurable and exciting. Those people who like romantic stories, and they are totally entitle to do so, will be satisfied with the novel, since at the end of the day,  the builders and the railroad engineers were beings of flesh and blood who followed the biblical precepts of meeting another person, falling in love and reproducing. “

Aristides Royo – Ex-President of Panama and essayist.  Member of the Panamanian Academy of Language.

“There are so many edges in The Golden Horse that it would be difficult to elaborate on all of its aspects: man’s struggle to master an untamed nature, the rising mortality of those who attempted to open the interoceanic path, the vicissitudes of many boatmen, porters and drivers of mule trains, the faith in human progress thanks in part to the construction of many other railways which was a well defined yearning of the nineteenth century … the morphology, ecology, fauna and flora of the central isthmus, the changes that the iron path (the railroad) provoked in the host society, the adventures in love, hate and crime that occurred parallel to the emergence of this technological feat, the high dividends, the unthinkable profits. And, deep down, the Watermelon Slice Affair in April 1856, epiphany of the homeland xenophobia.

No less remarkable are the techniques used by the novelist to achieve his purposes: interior monologue, the progress of the narrative through letters that are inserted throughout the story, the use of personal diaries and journals belonging to the main characters whose psyches the author aims to expose, understand and elucidate. Also impressive are the diversity of spaces where the novel unfolds, feature that tends to universalize it. “

Alfredo Figueroa Navarro – Historian and writer

“An act of meanness … would be to say that The Golden Horse is a book about the construction of the interoceanic railway. Actually it is a work of multiple dimensions that takes as an excuse this nineteenth century feat to tell us a little bit about the world and a lot about Panama.  Morgan reconstructed with amazing detail the saga that brave entrepreneurs achieved in the isthmus … using a simple, clear style… in this plot that combines heroism, intrigue, life and death, and in the midst of it all love.”

Manuel Domínguez – Critic

“A novel belonging to the historical genre, The Golden Horse has the magic of a long, deep, seductive, breath in which the author unfolds as a guiding platform, the tenacity of man against nature, and the highest expression of that feeling called love, embodied in the lives of the writer and entrepreneur John Lloyd Stephens and his wife Elizabeth … This is not a one plane story, it is a novel full of images and reflections, warm scenery, about the dreams and persistence of its main characters … Descriptive and evocative throughout the novel,  at the end Juan David Morgan unleashes his masterpiece blow. He has structured and ripened the storytelling in a way that he knows will make the reader become hopelessly and passionately cornered, keeping track of even Elizabeth’s breath; that throughout the 448 pages of the book the reader has learned to admire and love her, to understand the story through her journal and her perception, her joy, her dreams and thoughts, and then as if in a spiral of gray dense smoke, the writer lets loose the silence and the suspense, cuts the description short and lets the readers take their desperation and experience the shock and pain in the best way they can. “

Julio Bermúdez – Journalist and critic

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1 review for The Golden Horse

  1. admin

    Excelente Libro – Versión en Inglés. También traducido al Japonés.

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