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This worthy volume begins with the days of James Buchanan Eads (who built the first bridge across the lower Mississippi), who favored "spillways" to contain the raging river's inevitable floods, and his rival engineer Edward Humphreys, who favored ever-taller levees. The Army Corps of engineers and local authorities had largely followed the "levee only" policy from after the Civil War until the unprecedented 1927 flood.
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.
Excellent history of the flood, Mississippi River failed flood control and the arrogance of political powers of the time. Excellent lessons of politicians ignoring knowledgeable engineers and scientists to garner votes and maintain their "control" of the average man's lives. At times the text angers this reader and at others it just amazes at the strength of individuals and the sacrifices one will make to survive. Really a very revealing book on human nature and the dominance of Mother Nature, complicated with political arrogance and waste.
Barry takes on the exhaustive job of chronicling the great Mississippi flood and its impact on victims and government policy. Lots of sometimes fascinating history to digest.
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.
I am slogging my way thru this! It was recommended by a retired weather meteorologist and I can see why he really liked it. The first part of the book is very dry; mostly statistics and data. But when it actually gets to the part about the flood, it is an easier read and I am finally there and starting to enjoy it, altho there are many parts that are so terrible, it is hard to believe it. The racial divide was very cruel during those times and as bad as it is today, I certainly hope it is better than it was then. As for the flood part, it is a reminder that Mother Nature can also be quite cruel and you should remember the past and be prepared.
This book is excellent and the writing is perfect. Readers get the feeling they are living in those times and dealing with the struggles. This book covers multiple social, political, scientific, and humanistic aspects of the mid to late 1800s and turn of the century. It was cool to learn about the great advances in civil engineering and how those feats overlapped with enormous advances in science. It was absolutely painful to learn how miserably African Americans were treated and how much of an impact they had on the successful growth of the USA. This book is highly educational-- a wonderful read for everyone.
A thorough account of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927; excellent research and scholarship. It is about the south and carries a southern flavor to the writing. It can be long winded, but it captures the mood of the times.
I am a Texan that grew up in Memphis and spent a fair amount of time in the Delta, and a history buff. Until I was told to read this book I had never heard of this flood or its importance. After reading it all I can say is wow!
This flood was the catalyst for the collapse of the plantation system and the great black migration to the north. The flood changed how government reacted to crisis, how turmoil, which could have been channeled to erode race, actually drove a bigger wedge into American society.
Rising Tide, and Rebecca Solnit’s “A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster,” make a strong pair for a better understanding of what’s likely to be happening, at least to some extent, in Houston/Harvey (2017 floods). For most, reading Solnit’s quasi-optimistic book before the thicker, and rather pessimistic Barry, would be my suggested order. Triple with Sven Beckert's "Empire of Cotton" for a better understanding of economics and technological change, the South's need for labor, and a peek at USA politics.
The 1927 flood was a truly monumental event, which had escaped my notice until I read this book. But far more interesting was the author's depiction of the social structure of the two most affected states, Louisiana and Mississippi. In addition to being excellent political history of the two states, Rising Tide chronicles race relations in terms that are by turns horrifying and heart-breaking. Reading about a white overseer in Mississippi, running out of sandbags and earth to fill them, ordering the blacks under his charge to lie themselves down on the levee to hold the water back with their bodies, sent chills down my spine. This is a great political history of the era when the Southern states instituted Jim Crow, and the obscene violence that became the norm in Mississippi. Barry captures it well. When outsiders, conspicuously Herbert Hoover, arrive and have to deal with the shall-we-say-unique culture of the Mississippi Delta, the result could not be more appalling. Kudos to the author, not only for a remarkable achievement, but for having the courage to research and tell the tale at all. .