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<span class="h1"><strong>John M. Barry Reviews <em>Wicked River</em></strong></span> <p><b>John M. Barry is the author of five previous books, including the highly acclaimed and award-winning studies <em>Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America</em><em></em>, and <em>The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history</em>. His next book, <em>The Creation of the American Soul</em>, about the development of the separation of church and state, will appear in 2011. Read his review of <em>Wicked River:</em></b></p> <p><img align="right" border="0" src="http://g-ecx.images-amazon.com/images/G/01/books/rando-ems/john-barry-100.jpg"/> </p> <p>There are literally thousands of books about the Mississippi River, each of them attempting to capture its majesty. It is a tribute to the river's complexity and power that so few have succeeded. Lee Sandlin does. He writes elegantly and delivers what he promised--the story of the river in the days before engineers began their efforts to drain it of its mystery and protect us from its power. And by demythologizing both the river itself and the men and women on and along the river, by separating fact from legend, Sandlin actually makes it more majestic still.</p> <p>There's plenty of humor in here, and farce. Perhaps the single story that hits the hardest, though, has nothing about it either humorous or majestic. And it could be farce, something for Mark Twain's illumination, except for the punch line. It is the story of Virgil Stewart. In a kind of American version of the Protocols of Zion, Stewart peddled a supposed plan for a white-led slave uprising that took hold of much of the lower Mississippi Valley. The beatings, murder, and torture his lies engendered only remind us how fearful and stupid humans can be at their worst.</p> <p>The river today has banks lined with concrete for hundreds of miles, while dams block off tributaries and levees seal the main river in. All that constrains the river. Nonetheless, these very constraints have themselves wreaked havoc on the land the river made--physically made, by the deposit of sediment--along the modern Gulf Coast. And the power and wildness of the river which Sandlin writes about are one great flood away from unleashing. The river is, as T.S. Eliot wrote, "unhonored, unpropitiated / by the worshippers of machine. But waiting, watching and waiting."</p> <hr noshade="noshade" size="1" class="bucketDivider"/>
<p>From award-winning journalist Lee Sandlin comes a riveting look at one of the most colorful, dangerous, and peculiar places in America’s historical landscape: the strange, wonderful, and mysterious Mississippi River of the nineteenth century.<br> <br>Beginning in the early 1800s and climaxing with the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, <i>Wicked River</i> takes us back to a time before the Mississippi was dredged into a shipping channel, and before Mark Twain romanticized it into myth. Drawing on an array of suspenseful and bizarre firsthand accounts, Sandlin brings to life a place where river pirates brushed elbows with future presidents and religious visionaries shared passage with thieves—a world unto itself where, every night, near the levees of the big river towns, hundreds of boats gathered to form dusk-to-dawn cities dedicated to music, drinking, and gambling. Here is a minute-by-minute account of Natchez being flattened by a tornado; the St. Louis harbor being crushed by a massive ice floe; hidden, nefarious celebrations of Mardi Gras; and the sinking of the <i>Sultana</i>, the worst naval disaster in American history. Here, too, is the Mississippi itself: gorgeous, perilous, and unpredictable, lifeblood to the communities that rose and fell along its banks. <br> <br>An exuberant work of Americana—at once history, culture, and geography—<i>Wicked River</i> is a grand epic that portrays a forgotten society on the edge of revolutionary change.</p>