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

4.7 out of 5 stars 300 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684810461
ISBN-10: 0684810468
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

When Mother Nature rages, the physical results are never subtle. Because we cannot contain the weather, we can only react by tabulating the damage in dollar amounts, estimating the number of people left homeless, and laying the plans for rebuilding. But as John M. Barry expertly details in Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, some calamities transform much more than the landscape.

While tracing the history of the nation's most destructive natural disaster, Barry explains how ineptitude and greed helped cause the flood, and how the policies created to deal with the disaster changed the culture of the Mississippi Delta. Existing racial rifts expanded, helping to launch Herbert Hoover into the White House and shifting the political alliances of many blacks in the process. An absorbing account of a little-known, yet monumental event in American history, Rising Tide reveals how human behavior proved more destructive than the swollen river itself.

From Library Journal

In the spring of 1927, America witnessed perhaps its greatest natural disaster: a flood that profoundly changed race relations, government, and society in the Mississippi River valley region. Barry (The Transformed Cell, LJ 9/1/92) presents here a fascinating social history of the effects of the massive flood. More than 30 feet of water stood over land inhabited by nearly one million people. Almost 300,000 African Americans were forced to live in refugee camps for months. Many people, both black and white, left the land and never returned. Using an impressive array of primary and secondary sources, Barry clearly traces and analyzes how the changes produced by the flood in the lower South came into conflict and ultimately destroyed the old planter aristocracy, accelerated black migration to the North, and foreshadowed federal government intervention in the region's social and economic life during the New Deal. His well-written work supplants Pete Daniel's Deep'n as It Come: The 1927 Mississippi Flood (1977) as the standard work on the subject. Recommended for public and academic libraries.
-?Charles C. Hay III, Eastern Kentucky Univ. Libs., Richmond
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 9, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684810468
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684810461
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (300 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,449 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By ealovitt HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on June 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
This is basically a story of how men with position, power, and money can mistreat their poorer neighbors, black and white, and walk away with lily-white hands, their aristocratic noses held high. I never thought I'd be rooting for Huey Long to become governor of Louisiana but compared to the power structure he was replacing, he was a knight in shining armor.

The river that weaves through the story is of course, the Mississippi, and the author begins in the mid-1800s up through the great flood of 1927, and a few years beyond. He has some astounding history to tell us:

* The 1920s version of the Ku Klux Klan failed, not because it didn't have grassroots support, but because it had never been visualized as an organization like, say, the Kiwanis. It was basically set up as a pyramid scheme to sell memberships with weird titles like 'kleagle,' 'wizard,' 'exalted cyclop,' and 'hydra of the realm.' Klansmen ended up as elected officials in several states, but squabbled over the membership fees, defrauded members of their contributions, and sank quickly out of sight, although not quick enough for some.

* One of the chief Mississippi Delta plantation owners, LeRoy Percy, kicked the Klan out of his county, calling them 'spies, liars, [and] cowards.' Later, he blocked the transportation of black flood refugees from his county, afraid that once they left they'd never return. So his sharecroppers spent a miserable few months on the levee with inadequate food, shelter, and medical attention, forced into work gangs to repair the levees.

* The engineers who originally surveyed the Mississippi River in order to recommend flood-control measures were flatly opposed to a levees-only policy.
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Format: Paperback
John Barry's account of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 includes the roles that members of my family played in the flood's aftermath and also in the creation of Delta levees during the 19th century. He got almost everything right - including his depiction of the homosexuality of my cousin, William Alexander Percy , who published a classic memoir of Southern life, Lanterns on the Levee, a bestseller still in print today. When the flood hit, inundating Will's home town of Greenville, Mississippi, the mayor appointed him chief of an emergency relief committee.
All went well until Will's father LeRoy objected to Will's plan to evacuate thousands of black sharecroppers marooned on the levee. LeRoy feared that if the sharecroppers left the Delta they would never return. He insisted they go for a walk together. The only first-hand report we have of what Will and LeRoy discussed is Will's description in Lanterns. I do not think that Will told the full story, but we do know that LeRoy extracted an agreement to consult one last time the members of his emergency committee, and that not long after, the barges waiting on the river to take the refugees were sent down the Mississippi empty.
John Barry does not speculate as I do that LeRoy threatened Will on account of his homosexuality, but he rightly concludes that the frail, literary gay son could not stand up to his domineering father. Rising Tide provides an accurate analysis of their relationship, in the process giving the fullest public account to date of Will's sexual nature. He describes Will's affairs with three of his black chauffeurs--a subject that not even Bertram Wyatt-Brown, author of House of Percy, discusses. Barry's book is important for our family pride, though most of my Southern cousins do not agree.

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Format: Paperback
No one remembers the 1927 flood, or even that it happened; but it was the events surrounding that single event which more than anything else gave us modern America, and John Barry's book is essential to understanding it.
Obviously the book gives a full account of the flood itself, of the history of the river and of the delta, of the people who carved a nation out of wilderness and who lived and died in the catastrophe; without a doubt, Barry does all this, and does it in gripping style: the book is hard to put down.
But Barry does far more. In telling the story, he shows how a heretofore anti-socialist America was forced by unprecedented circumstance to embrace an enormous, Washington-based big-government solution to the greatest natural catastrophe in our history, preparing the way (psychologically and otherwise) for the New Deal. He shows how this was accomplished through the Republican (but left-wing) Herbert Hoover, who would never have become President without the flood. Most importantly, he shows how Hoover's foolish, all-encompassing arrogance single-handedly drove the backbone of the Republican Party -- African Americans -- away from the GOP and into the arms of the segregationist, generally pro-KKK Democrats (a truly amazing feat). It is an amazing tale indeed.
It holds important lessons for the future as well. Hoover's loss of the black community is a lesson virtually unknown to modern readers (who generally assume they just drifted away under the New Deal), and holds important (and perhaps urgent) lessons for modern Democrats and Republicans alike.
But on a more fundamental level, the book teaches us the power of the river, a lesson we've forgotten even in the face of some reasonably large modern floods.
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