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Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America (1997)

por John M. Barry

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1,4302613,079 (4.2)91
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 19th century, when the first serious attempts to control the river began. From the engineers and the dominant families in the Delta to the New Orleans elite, Rising Tide tells how the flood changed the face of American and laid the groundwork for the New Deal.… (mais)
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    Shantyboat: A River Way of Life por Harlan Hubbard (John_Vaughan)
    John_Vaughan: How the 'ole Miss' changes lives and lands and the technology changes from the time of Harlan Hubbard.
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    Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild por Lee Sandlin (John_Vaughan)
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    The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration por Isabel Wilkerson (rebeccanyc)
    rebeccanyc: One of the consequences of the great Mississippi flood was the African-American migration to the north and west. Barry discusses this and Wilkerson explores it in greater detail.
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Mostrando 1-5 de 26 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
Slow at the beginning but utterly masterful in the last 200 pages ( )
  Charles_R._Cowherd | Jul 10, 2021 |
Very well written narrative nonfiction novel. The amount of depth into the subject matter was great for someone like me who loves all the details. The book also highlighted for me (even more so) the passive “attempts” out government has taken to improve race relations—despite opportunities to possibly do so. ( )
  RoxieT | Nov 9, 2019 |
An excellent and fascinating look at the Mississippi River, attempts to control it, politics, race relations, and the persons wielding power. Yet another story illustrating the self-serving underhanded use of power to the detriment of the ordinary person. ( )
  snash | Aug 15, 2019 |
Fraught with interesting similarities to Katrina, although the book dates to 1997 and was therefore not inspired by that event. Author John Barry starts his narrative back in the 1860s, when the Army Corps of Engineers and independent engineers James Buchannan Eads and George Ellet got involved in a three-way controversy over the correct way to “control” the Mississippi River. The COE insisted on a “levees only” policy, based on studies from the Po River in Italy; the other engineers wanted levees plus diversion channels plus detention reservoirs. Ellet was taken out of the picture when he was killed in the Civil War; Eads and the Corps continued to battle, with the Corps and “levees only” winning.


The theory behind “levees only” was that when the river was confined between levees, the average current velocity would increase and scour the river bottom; the deeper channel would then be less prone to flooding. The probably did work fine in Italy, where the levees along the Po defined the river channel; Mississippi levees were often more than a mile away from the average channel – thus the current never had a chance to “scour”. In fact, the Corps was so committed to the “levees only” policy that they closed natural diversion channels (all but the largest, the Atchafalaya River – and they were planning to dam that off in 1928). About all you can say is it seemed like a good idea at the time.


The winter of 1926 and the spring of 1927 had some of the most severe weather in history. New Orleans got five consecutive record-breaking rainstorms, and the river rose above highest recorded flood levels all the way from Illinois to the Gulf. Sandbag crews – mostly conscripted blacks – worked full time, and guards – all white – supervised and patrolled (if you are on, say, the west bank of the river, and the levee on the east bank happens to break, you’re saved. A lot of people noted that somebody else’s levee could be encouraged to break at the right spot with a few dozen sticks of dynamite. A number of dynamiters or alleged dynamiters were shot).


Although the engineering and hydraulic discussions are fairly good for a non-engineer, most of Barry’s enthusiasm is for people. The book really has no heroes, with the possible exception of Eads and LeRoy Percy, a traditional “Southern gentleman” and landowner in Greeneville, Mississippi. Barry is hard on every president involved – Wilson was a “dictator” created a “red scare”, reintroduced segregation and allowed the Ku Klux Klan to be reborn. In Centralia, Washington in 1919, veterans – not Klansmen, but American Legion members acting on Wilson’s “Americanism” program, dragged Wobbly Wesley Everest from jail, hanged him from a bridge, and used his body for target practice. The coroner ruled it a suicide.


Harding didn’t last long enough to incur Barry’s ire, but Coolidge is castigated for “doing nothing” about the flood. He doesn’t like most of the locals, either – landowners refused to evacuate blacks from threatened areas, worrying that if they left they would never come back (probably correctly). Even Percy, who had spoken out against the Klan, was worried about a black farm worker exodus. (Greenville was a remarkably tolerant city for the time and place; residents once broke into the jail and lynched a white man who had murdered a popular black resident. Not exactly due process, but it’s the thought that counts).


Eventually the inevitable happened and the levee at Mound City, Mississippi failed. A patrol noticed a small stream of water – two feet wide and one foot deep – overtopping the levee. By the time they got sandbaggers, it was a torrent, and in a few minutes the entire levee gave way. Other levees on the west side also broke, and the Atchafalaya carried away more water than the Mississippi did at normal flow (oddly, this saved New Orleans).


The disaster was vastly greater than Katrina – millions of acres were flooded. The death toll is unknown – most were blacks that nobody counted – but estimated to be in the thousands. Coolidge finally appointed Herbert Hoover the “flood czar” and gave him direct control over all Federal agencies (although most relief work was actually done by the Red Cross, the military did contribute tents, bedding, and airplanes to hunt for survivors). Barry doesn’t have much use for Hoover, either; he acknowledges that Hoover did an adequate job as the “flood czar” but accuses him of racial favoritism and of starting the reversal of the “Solid South”; Barry claims Hoover quietly abandoned the few blacks in the south who could vote (and who always voted Republican) in exchange for a “lily-white” southern Republican base.


All and all, pretty interesting. I’m a little skeptical of some of Barry’s commentary on individuals – he often writes as if he could read minds. Nevertheless, this was something I knew nothing about, and the role reversal of Democrats and Republicans provided some cognitive dissonance. Four stars, I think. ( )
  setnahkt | Dec 18, 2017 |
@ Miss. Flood — 1927
Pg 26 Eads — so passionate @ river not see it, embrace it, bullied, whipped, pulled, by river — like sand/storm in an intense storm — levees w/outlets confine water release water
Man w/ Nature —
Old View — gov't stay away — Red cross + Indiv'ls did nill to provide for victims — (even though gov't had a high deficit)
Shift of African-Amers to Democ. Party
good — Learning — Story

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.
  christinejoseph | Dec 23, 2016 |
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And the rain descended, and the flood came, and the wind blew,
and beat upon that house;
and it fell, and great was the fall or it.

     -- Matthew 7:27
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On the morning of Good Friday, April 15, 1927, Seguine Allen, the chief engineer of the Mississippi Levee Board in Greenville, Mississippi, woke up to the sound of running water.
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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 19th century, when the first serious attempts to control the river began. From the engineers and the dominant families in the Delta to the New Orleans elite, Rising Tide tells how the flood changed the face of American and laid the groundwork for the New Deal.

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