Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America Paperback – Illustrated, 2 April 1998
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Tom Wicker This is the kind of history I love -- the brilliantly told story of the great Mississippi flood of 1927, a disaster for millions but the making of a future president and a turning point for the nation.
T.H. Watkins The New York Times Book Review Extraordinary...Rising Tide stands not only as a powerful story of disaster but as an accomplished and important social history, magisterial in its scope and fiercely dedicated to unearthing truth.
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- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Illustrated edition (2 April 1998)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0684840022
- ISBN-13 : 978-0641763625
- Item Weight : 775 g
- Dimensions : 15.56 x 3.3 x 23.5 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #581,982 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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When the incessant rains and floods came, they were more pervasive and worse than anyone had imagined. Author John M. Barry details not only what happened in "the Delta" -- cotton country -- but what happened on Mississippi tributaries, too, leaving hundreds of thousands of poor farm families destitute and homeless. When the flood hits, the author concentrates on little Greenville, Mississippi, including the aristocratic Percy family (one cousin of whom was novelist Walker Percy), that ran the plantations and dominated politics; also then-reigning New Orleans, which tried to save itself by having levees downriver dynamited. By trying to raise quick labor to raise the levees, the Percys and other leaders conscripted black sharecroppers and then brutalized and abused them, making of Greenville a sore spot in race relations in what was once a relatively tolerant area. New Orleans' inability to fulfill its commitments to reimburse those it flooded out (and its duplicity in tweaking the legal system to its advantage) gave rise to Louisiana populism, most notably Huey Long.
RISING TIDE is a readable and useful chronicle of a surprisingly under-documented subject in national history. Reading this book helps readers understand the shifting national politics of the late 1920's and 1930's, and such social phenomena as the exodus of disenfranchised blacks to the cities of the North. I would have hoped that a book of this scope and specificity would have more than one "overview" map, but that's a minor deficit in such a generous study.
The problem (for me anyway) is that in his hands, the tale is exhausting for the reader. The author evidently (with some justification) regards the flood as a watershed event (sorry) in American history, and so he drags in a dizzying array of scientists, engineers, military men, politicians, plantation owners, sharecroppers and others in an effort to make his book a kind of Great American Non-Fiction Classic. The interwoven (and sometimes peripheral) storylines get to be too much, when the central events are compelling enough.
I found the book's attempt to present LeRoy Percy (described in another review as a ''banker, plantation owner (and) senator, who protected blacks against demagogues and the Ku Klux Klan'') as a sympathetic and even heroic figure to be distasteful. It was plain to me that Percy's anti-Klan activities came about because he worried that their extreme behavior would drive away the cheap black labor that Percy wanted to continue exploiting for his own benefit. Maybe Percy's sharecropping system wasn't quite as obviously racist, but it was plenty nasty in its own right.