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When the Mississippi Ran Backwards : Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes (2005)

por Jay Feldman

MembrosCríticasPopularidadeAvaliação médiaMenções
3311480,097 (3.75)88
An account of the ecological and historical impact of a series of Mississippi River Valley earthquakes in 1811 and 1812 documents how towns were destroyed and political loyalties were altered, changing the course of the War of 1812.
  1. 20
    The Earthquake America Forgot: Two Thousand Temblors in Five Months and It will Happen Again por David Stewart (sjmccreary)
    sjmccreary: This book provides more complete coverage about the New Madrid earthquakes. Not as polished as the Feldman book, but very informative.
  2. 10
    The Big One: The Earthquake That Rocked Early America and Helped Create a Science por Charles Officer (MM_Jones)
    MM_Jones: Wonderfully comprehensive look at early earthquake science
  3. 00
    A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 por Simon Winchester (geophile)
    geophile: Those interested in the history and events surrounding either of these great earthquakes may be interested in learning about the other. While the San Francisco earthquake is well known, fewer people know about the New Madrid earthquake.
  4. 00
    THE ANGRY EARTH: A Story of the New Madrid Earthquakes por Sally Watson (geophile)
    geophile: Those who enjoy reading about the New Madrid earthquakes may enjoy Sally Watson's historical novel about the event, and those who enjoy the historical novel, may be interested in finding out more of the facts.
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Mostrando 1-5 de 14 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
One of the libraries in my area catalogued this under history, while another had it under a disaster category. I think it adequately covered the history, relating the tragic history of Tecumseh’s struggle to save his people, but I didn’t feel like there was enough detail on the actual disaster. The bits on the Roosevelt’s were a highlight. ( )
  cspiwak | Mar 6, 2024 |
Very interesting story about the worst earthquake to ever hit the continental United States. This happened in 1811. Everyone knows that California has fault lines and there is always talk of when the 'big one' hits but very few people are aware of the fault line in the Mississippi River Valley area. The book combines the earthquake story with the politics of the time and the push west by settlers. Two main players in the story are Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison and their conflict. Highly recommend. ( )
  Nefersw | Jan 14, 2022 |
An engaging tale of the events surrounding one of the largest seismic events in US history, the series of earthquakes in late 1811/early 1812 centered near the town of New Madrid, Missouri.

Although the earthquakes are the centerpiece, this is mostly a popular history book, not a seismology text. Author Jay Feldman weaves a number of story threads together. First up is the pre-quake settlement of New Madrid by Revolutionary War veteran George Morgan (it was part of Spanish Louisiana then, hence the name, and it’s pronounced with the accent on the first syllable). In order to have an antagonist, Feldman introduces James Wilkinson, another Revolutionary War veteran who, at one point, apparently tried to sell Kentucky to the Spanish. Although Wilkinson is made out to be Morgan’s nemesis, denouncing him to the Spanish and trying to thwart the New Madrid colony (supposedly because it would somehow interfere with his own plans) there’s really not much to support this. Wilkinson did write to the Spanish governor suggesting he keep an eye on Morgan but there’s no real case for the Spanish acting on this.

The next three threads brings together Tecumseh, the Shawnee who attempted to forge a native alliance against American encroachment; Nicholas Roosevelt (great-great-granduncle of Teddy), who built the first steamboat, New Orleans, on the western rivers; and Lilburne Lewis, a nephew of Thomas Jefferson, who murdered his slave George and burned the remains in his fireplace. The earthquakes connect them; Tecumseh prophesied that he would stamp his foot and cause the lodges of those who opposed him to fall down; Roosevelt and the New Orleans were close enough to the epicenter that when the initial quake struck, the island that they had tied up to for the night sank; and the earthquakes took after Lewis like the Furies (the first collapsed his chimney, revealing George; Lewis collected him and bricked him up in the replacement chimney, whereupon the second quake collapsed that, too, allowing a local dog to drag parts of George out to the road for discovery by a passerby.)

Feldman’s strength is in characterization. Tecumseh comes across a great man and you might suspect some modern political correctness, except it’s pretty clear contemporary non-natives thought pretty well of him, too. Although everybody knows “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” was William Henry Harrison’s campaign slogan, I wasn’t aware that Martin Van Buren’s vice president, Richard Johnson, had come up with “Rumpsey Dumpsey, Rumpsey Dumpsey, Colonel Johnson Killed Tecumseh”. Roosevelt also comes across well, as does his young wife Lydia, who accompanied him down the river despite being in her eighth month of pregnancy. Lilburne Lewis and his accomplice and younger brother Isham don’t get fleshed out quite as well; I never really got a feel for them. Feldman s spends a lot of time discussing the Lewis’s prosecution for murder, which he suggests was unusual for the time and place. I suspect it was Lilburne’s attempt to conceal the body and the unpleasant way it was discovered that turned his neighbors against him enough to bring a true bill. A master was allowed to kill a slave through “moderate correction” and I get the impression that beheading was considered “moderate” by contemporary Kentuckians.


The final thread concerns post-quake events; the outcome of the War of 1812, including Jackson’s campaign against the Creeks and the Battle of New Orleans. Feldman gets a little carried away here, making it seem like the American victory was the miraculous triumph of outnumbered militia over veteran redcoats (Feldman says “many had fought with Wellington at Waterloo”, which is interesting, since the battle of New Orleans was fought on January 8, 1815, and Waterloo wasn’t until June 18). In fact, Pakenham ordered a frontal assault in daytime against a well-fortified position backed up by the world’s finest riflemen, and the outcome was a foregone conclusion.

While the history and characterizations are well done, the seismology is very weak. Feldman acknowledges several professional geologists as sources and reviewers, but either they didn’t do a good job or were ignored. The basics are that the New Madrid fault zone is a very old (Proterozoic) failed rift arm that has somehow reactivated. Feldman describes the rift as a “valley deep beneath the earth’s surface”, which creates the impression that there’s actually some sort of hollow space down there; describes the Mississippi as “filling the ancient rift valley”, which is completely misleading; says some of the explanation for the much larger affected area for the Missouri earthquakes than the San Francisco earthquakes is that western rocks are “warmer”, and makes shock-induced soil liquefaction completely unintelligible. However, this is not supposed to be a geology textbook; look elsewhere for fault zone mechanics.

A good light read; four stars. ( )
  setnahkt | Jan 1, 2018 |
This is a non-fiction book with plenty of history and documentation, so is not a light read, but it IS a good read. The book was not at all what I expected, but I enjoyed it very much. From the title, I expected it to be more about the earthquakes of New Madrid. While growing up in St. Louis, I had both heard about the big quakes and felt a tremor or 2 from the fault since. I've grown up knowing that this area is seismologically active. But what was fascinating for me is all the history that was occurring at the time of the earthquakes. I learned a lot by reading this book. I really didn't know much about Tecumseh, but learned enough about him in this book that I'd like to learn more. I knew little or nothing about William Henry Harrison, who does not come off well at all in this book. Neither does Andrew Jackson, one of my favorite presidents. (My view of him was based on 'The President's Lady by Irving Stone, which I read in elementary school.) I knew nothing about Nicholas Roosevelt, the great-uncle of Teddy, who was instrumental in advancing steamboat travel. And I'd never heard of Thomas Jefferson's nephews, who gruesomely murdered one of their slaves. All of these play a role in this book.
The one thing that was disappointing to me was the author's treatment of the Iben Browning earthquake prediction of a New Madrid earthquake. The author painted the entire population as hysterical and unreasoning. It is true that the media made a huge deal of the prediction, just like they do about most anything else, and a few people I knew considered not sending their children to school and a few refused to drive across bridges, but the majority of area residents did not over-react and actually found some humor in the predictions. The area did become more aware of the possibility and the need to be prepared, but almost no one expected a major disaster to occur. The way the author misinterpreted this situation DOES make me wonder if his analysis of other parts of the book are accurate. In any event, I did enjoy the book very much! ( )
1 vote Time2Read2 | Mar 31, 2013 |
Not quite what I expected and not nearly what it could have been. ( )
  GTTexas | Nov 8, 2011 |
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The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i' the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events
New hatch'd to the woeful time. The obscure bird
Clamour'd the livelong night: some say, the earth
Was feverous and did shake.

William Shakespeare,
Macbeth
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To my wife Marti
and my parents Ben & Edna
for all their love and support.
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Accompanied by an entourage of Shawnee, Kickapoo, and Winnebago warriors, the Shawnee chief strode decisively through the Creek village of Tuckhabatchee.
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An account of the ecological and historical impact of a series of Mississippi River Valley earthquakes in 1811 and 1812 documents how towns were destroyed and political loyalties were altered, changing the course of the War of 1812.

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