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Old Glory : A Voyage Down the Mississippi Paperback – May 26, 1998

3.7 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"It is as big and depthless as the sky itself. You can see the curve of the earth on its surface as it stretches away for miles to the far shore." So begins Old Glory, in which Jonathan Raban recounts his eye-opening descent of the Mississippi River in a 16-foot aluminum motorboat. As the English author explains, his obsession with the subject began with Huckleberry Finn, which he first read as a 7-year-old. And in fact, his opening sentences refer as much to the imaginary river as to the real one, which turns out to be less bucolic than Raban expected. Three miles upstream from Oquawka, Illinois, he's nearly pulverized by a towboat. Later on, the intrepid voyager only just manages to escape a treacherous whirlpool near St. Louis, calming himself afterwards with a generous dose of tobacco and Valium.

True, when Raban isn't cheating death he encounters some stunning terrain, which he describes in no-less-stunning prose. Yet Old Glory is much, much more than a travelogue. It is also a brilliant interrogation of the American psyche, in the tradition of De Tocqueville and Crevecoeur. And ultimately, Raban tells us a great deal about the very phenomenon of travel, with all its rigors and rewards, and its peculiar, metaphysical dislocations: "Riding the river, I had seen myself as a sincere traveler, thinking of my voyage not as a holiday but as a scale model of a life. It was different from life in one essential: I would survive it to give an account of its end."

From the Inside Flap

The author of Bad Land realizes a lifelong dream as he navigates the waters of the Mississippi River in a spartan sixteen-foot motorboat, producing yet another masterpiece of contemporary American travel writing. In the course of his voyage, Raban records the mercurial caprices of the river and the astonishingly varied lives of the people who live along its banks. Whether he is fishing for walleye or hunting coon, discussing theology in Prairie Du Chien or race relations in Memphis, he is an expert observer of the heartyland's estrangement from America's capitals ot power and culture, and its helpless nostalgia for its lost past. Witty, elegaic, and magnificently erudite, Old Glory is as filled with strong currents as the Mississippi itself.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Departures
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (May 26, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701009
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #526,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John C. Bradley, Jr. on July 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
I read Bad Land, Raban's book on homesteaders in Montana several years ago and it has become one of my all time favorite books. Since that time I have read some of Raban's other books, this one included. Raban's subject is fascinating, his writing is first rate. However, like some of the other reviewers have noted, this book is marred by the author's cynical tone and approach and an air of condecension that preveals throughout this book. Raban continually gives the impression that in his brief stops along the river he "figures out" what the locals have been unable to or have failed to figure out for years. I am sure that Raban did encounter his share of rubes and rednecks, but if this book is to be believed, those types of people are practically the only ones he encountered (maybe this has something to do with the fact that he sought out bars and watering holes as his first contact with many of the places he visited). His take on the South is typical of someone who has never lived in it.
This is a very good book and worth reading. However, it would not be my first choice of books written by this author. This book is marred by an attitude of superiority and condecension that Raban appears to have lost in his later books.
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Format: Paperback
Old Glory tells the tale of Raban's solo journey by boat down the Mississippi from Minneapolis to New Orleans. Along the way, he visits the great cities and backwater towns that dot this legendary American wonder. Raban demonstrates that the Mississippi is, in myriad ways, much more than a river. He records the life-altering relationships between people and place and brings us the history and experience of this ultimate American artery. I have crossed the Mississippi by bridge and plane countless times and, with a cursory glance, acknowledged it as a major American marker. Raban, however, brings a soul to the Mississippi that, at once, uncovers a latent reverence, inspires a profound understanding, and rekindles a vicarious sense of spirit and adventure in the American citizen for "our" river and it's lore. This is an excellent book that deserves, and will certainly earn, your attention.
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Format: Paperback
I have traveled a fair amount through the small towns of the United States and have to concur with Mr. Raban's depiction of both the towns and the people who live in them. Other readers who have taken the time to write reviews of this book here seem to have remembered only about half of what Raban wrote about each of the towns that he visited.
His initial impressions were often filled with disappointment. He had approached this trip with a boyhood dream in his head and he was continually set back on his proverbial heels by the reality of these river towns in 1979. More often than not, however, further exploration of the town, conversations with some of its citizens and reflection on his part, caused Raban to revise his evaluation of many of the places that he visited.
Some reviewers may perhaps have forgotten that this book describes this region as it was after years during which the US economy struggled through an oil crisis, bouts of inflation, intervals of high unemployment and the tail end of the history of the "old economy". Should someone have the time and inclination to retrace Raban's steps nearly 25 years later, I would not be surprised if they found these towns and their people had changed quite a bit, probably for the better in social and economic terms. For instance, Raban devoted most of a chapter to the failed election campaign of Memphis's first black candidate for mayor. A quick Google (keywords: Memphis Tennesee government) will show you that the present mayor of Memphis (Willie W. Herenton) is African-American. I'm going to guess that he is not the first black mayor of Memphis.
I loved Raban's modus operandi for getting to the heart of a place. Tie up your boat, go to the nearest bar and strike up a conversation.
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Format: Paperback
Having read and thoroughly enjoyed Raban's 'Bad Land,' I really looked forward to reading this book. Bad Land is all about pure unadulterated misery, but somehow the inhabitants of that god-forsaken place are shown to be decent souls with human dignity.

Raban's just now clearing Lock 6 at Trempealeaw, and I'm abandoning ship before we've even left Minnesota. I can journey no further south with this contemptible ass. His misanthropic disdain for people who show nothing but kindness to him is quite appalling. I'm no flag-waving provincialist; I'm something of a cynic myself. But, I've journeyed all over the world, and have never felt compelled to straight-arm a local's accent, clothing, mannerisms, dietary habits, housing, or the width of his neck.

There are many other books available that document voyages down the Mississippi, usually in a craft much less river-worthy than a 16-foot speedboat. Try "Paddle to the Amazon" for a starter.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like everything Raban writes, especially "Passage to Juneau". One of the better books I have ever read on the Inside Passage. Raban has a great way with words. I recently did a river trip in a friends yacht and had hoped for more detailed information on the river. Old Glory talks mostly about the people he meets on his voyage and while interesting I found it somewhat depressing to read about the people he met along the way. I still found it interesting, just not as great as "Passage to Juneau", which I thought outstanding.

https://www.amazon.com/Passage-Juneau-Sea-Its-Meanings/dp/0679776141/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468878170&sr=1-1&keywords=passage+to+juneau
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