Rising Tide

Rising Tide

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America

Book - 1997
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In 1927, the Mississippi River swept across an area roughly equal in size to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined, leaving water as deep as thirty feet on the land stretching from Illinois and Missouri south to the Gulf of Mexico. Close to a million people - in a nation of 120 million - were forced out of their homes. Some estimates place the death toll in the thousands. The Red Cross fed nearly 700,000 refugees for months. Rising Tide is the story of this forgotten event, the greatest natural disaster this country has ever known. But it is not simply a tale of disaster. The flood transformed part of the nation and had a major cultural and political impact on the rest. Rising Tide is an American epic about science, race, honor, politics, and society. Rising Tide begins in the nineteenth century, when the first serious attempts to control the river began. The story focuses on engineers James Eads and Andrew Humphreys, who hated each other. Out of the collision of their personalities and their theories came a compromise river policy that would lead to the disaster of the 1927 flood yet would also allow the cultivation of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta and create wealth and aristocracy, as well as a whole culture. In the end, the flood had indeed changed the face of America, leading to the most comprehensive legislation the government had ever enacted, touching the entire Mississippi valley from Pennsylvania to Montana. In its aftermath was laid the foundation for the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, c1997
ISBN: 9780684810461
Characteristics: 524 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map ; 25 cm


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Oct 19, 2018

I rated this book 3 stars. I think the value of the book depends upon your interests. The author makes his opinion of people and actions very clear. So while it is a very good review of the flood, it isn't as objective as I would have liked. He makes pretty severe judgements upon the players, doing a lot of arm-chair quarterbacking. For example, many are considered "brilliant fools" in the author's opinion. For me, this detracted from the story and colors his review of what happened.

My interest was the flood. If you are interested in that, then I would recommend skipping the first 150 pages and much of the end of the book. But if you are interested in the peoples and times of the life along the Mississippi in the 1920s, then this will be a good read.

May 20, 2016

John Barry is one of my favorite writers of popular history and "Rising Tide" is one of his best. His books usually center on specific episodes or events, but he goes into considerable detail about the cultural, social, political and intellectual milieus in which they occurred. In the case of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, Barry goes into detail about the 19th century conflict over how to manage the river between the Army Corps of Engineers and the self-taught St. Louis based engineer, James Eads. The author argues that the Corps won that fight, but that the later flood confirmed Eads' position. Barry also discusses how the political and social climate in New Orleans led to the sacrifice of some down stream communities in an effort to minimize damage to parts of the city. And in yet another facet of the episode, he asserts that the horrendously discriminatory management of the federal disaster relief effort of the Coolidge administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, began the alienation of African Americans from the Republican party and that accelerated in the following decade as the Franklin Roosevelt administration reached out to that community, mainly through his wife Eleanor. It's well over a decade since I read "Rising Tide," but it is still vivid in my memory. I recommend with equal enthusiasm Barry's "The Great Influenza," about the 1918 flu epidemic.


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