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When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes

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3.75  ·  Rating Details  ·  381 Ratings  ·  61 Reviews
On December 15, 1811, two of Thomas Jefferson's nephews murdered a slave in cold blood and put his body parts into a roaring fire. The evidence would have been destroyed but for a rare act of God -- or, as some believed, of the Indian chief Tecumseh.
That same day, the Mississippi River's first steamboat, piloted by Nicholas Roosevelt, powered itself toward New Orleans on
...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published November 1st 2007 by Free Press (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,268)
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Sarah
Jan 11, 2009 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Growing up in Chicago where earthquakes are extremely rare, we talk about the New Madrid (not pronounced like the city in Spain at all but more like MAD - as in "I'm mad at you," RID - as in "get rid of that.")fault as if it belongs to us when it is really hundreds of miles away. The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-12 were devastating, landscape changing and life changing events which occured just as Americans were expanding westward but all most people know about them is that the Mississippi ran ...more
Katie
This book wasn't exactly what I expected, but how many pages could you expect to write about an event that happened in 1811 in a place where only a few hundred people lived? I liked the author's approach though....trying to tie in all the stories of the various groups for whom the Earthquakes were a significant historical event - explorers, pioneers, Native Americans, and enslaved Africans. Also, I'm a little bit fascinated about this time period when Ohio and Indiana were still considered "the ...more
Mason
May 20, 2009 Mason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
For some reason, I neglected to fully process the subtitle, "Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes."
If you're looking for an unexpected take on the first decade of the nineteenth century, this is adequate but not satisfying. If, like me, you want a healthy dose of geology spiced with history, definitely read something else.
Fred Forbes
Nov 05, 2014 Fred Forbes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some years ago I took my son to Jefferson's Monticello and stopped at the research building near the entrance, wanting to check and see if they had anything on our family line which descends from his sister Lucy. She married Charles Lilburne Lewis (her first cousin) who moved the family to western Kentucky. I was thrilled to see a book had actually been written about this family but was a bit dismayed when I read the title "Jefferson's Nephews, A Frontier Tragedy" by Boynton Merrill Jr. This was ...more
Karen
Jun 11, 2012 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I teach geology, and I've long wondered about the New Madrid faultline and the big earthquake that occurred there in the early 1800's. I know way more about the San Francisco 1906 earthquake because I was raised in the Bay Area, and I'm familiar with the San Andreas fault. That's actually why I became interested in geology. Everyone always worries about the West Coast having earthquakes, not realizing the middle of the country has an faultline just as dangerous to worry about...

This book is a mi
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Jerry Smith
Hmmm - not bad but somewhat unsatisfying as a book as, in my opinion, the author tried to pull together several disparate strands with the context of the new Madrid Earthquakes as the backdrop. It just about works but frankly, the earthquakes themselves almost seem to take a back seat to the history of the settling of the frontier. That's OK, since it is an interesting topic in itself, but I wanted to know more about the earthquakes themselves and it seems as though that was a little lacking her ...more
Ann
Dec 08, 2008 Ann rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I was really really disappointed. The earthquakes are so often overlooked in American history surveys so I was excited to find a book dealing with the topic. And the sections about the quakes and their aftermath were fascinating. But the arguments by the author to cite the earthquakes as a contributing factor to the War of 1812, the collapse of Tecumseh's confederacy and Thomas Jefferson's position on slavery were tenuous, no that's too positive a word, how about fantasmacorical? (I made that on ...more
Aligd848
Mar 02, 2016 Aligd848 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved this book. Intertwined several historical events, stories, and personages including the Indian Chief Tecumseh, Andrew Jackson, Nicholas Roosevelt, scoundrel/murderous family members of Thomas Jefferson, the back story of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too", and places I have visited and known into a fascinating tale all tied to the series of disasterous New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812 centered in southeast Missouri. Highly recommend it.
James (JD) Dittes
This is a short, readable history of a pivotal decade in American history, when the Mississippi was the far west, and Americans struggled with Native Americans for control of what is today's Midsouth and Midwest. The episode of the book's title is only referred to in a couple of accounts. I really enjoyed Feldman's recounting of Tecumseh and his threat to the Creek Indians that he would "stamp his foot" in retaliation for their failure to join his confederacy. Also making an appearance in the bo ...more
Karry Macdonald
Mar 08, 2011 Karry Macdonald rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Growing up in California I knew all about earthquakes. I studied them in school, experienced them at home, etc. I knew they occurred around the Pacific Ocean in the "ring of fire". What I didn't know was that our country's Midwest area experienced a very large earthquake which actually changed the course of the mighty Mississippi River. This book is a wonderful read. There is historical information, both the earthquake itself but the other stories which became connected to this event. I highly r ...more
April
Informative history about the New Madrid earthquakes in middle America that shook the earth from Georgia to Canada from Dec 1811 to April 1812. Along the way, Feldman also explores an amazing inventor Nicholas Roosevelt and his equally amazing feminist wife Lydia (24 years his junior and pregnant with their second child, she accompanies him on the first steamboat expedition...right at the time of the earthquake. Feldman also explores the Native American hero Tecumseh; I feel that I learned an am ...more
Kathy
Dec 05, 2014 Kathy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: haveread
Many thanks to Ben Feldman, the author's son, for giving me this book to read. This is a thorough history of a major earthquake and subsequent tremors that impacted many aspects of life near New Madrid, MO around the end of 1811 and the beginning of 1812. The author brings in details of so many aspects of life at that time. This book not only is a thorough historical account of an amazing and influential event, but it is a delightful reminder that historic events never happen in isolation. Every ...more
Amy
Oct 11, 2013 Amy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There is plenty of history in this book, lots of anecdotes. It was like a sampler of history, so I do think that a person could use this book as a springboard for discovering more historical events to learn about. For instance, because of this book I am interested in learning more about Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison. I thought the author tried very, very hard to use the big New Madrid earthquakes as a thread that laced all of these events in this historical sampler together, but I don't th ...more
kim
May 09, 2011 kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of history, earthquakes, STL and MO
This is a non-fiction book with plenty of history and documentation, so is not a light read, but it IS a good read. The book was not at all what I expected, but I enjoyed it very much. From the title, I expected it to be more about the earthquakes of New Madrid. While growing up in St. Louis, I had both heard about the big quakes and felt a tremor or 2 from the fault since. I've grown up knowing that this area is seismologically active. But what was fascinating for me is all the history that wa ...more
Louis
Oct 17, 2013 Louis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The great Chief Tecumseh made a grand tour southward from Indiana in 1811 in an effort to unite the various tribes against the encroachment of the multiplying white settlers.
The Great Comet of 1811 was crossing the night sky. This was an object with a tail that extended about 100 million miles, a greater distance than the Sun. Tecumseh used this celestial event to impress the others with his authority, since his name, Tecumseh, meant 'Shooting Starr'.
When he couldn't convince an important Creek
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Zora
May 13, 2012 Zora rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Having read this, I'm not sure what it's about. For awhile, it seems to be about how lawless the Old West Before the Old West was. Then it seems to be about how white people of the new USA treated people of color badly. Then for a short while, it's about the New Madrid Earthquakes. Then--well, I'll stop here. And I searched for a thesis that somehow brought all these topics together, but I never found it. It felt like some grad student's four favorite papers presented end to end.

The second probl
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Eileen
Nov 28, 2011 Eileen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second book by Feldman that I have read...I look forward to more!

The tough part of the read is the color of the paper and sometimes the ink was too light for my eyes.
Perhaps a Kindle is in my future!

The subtitle of the book is 'Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes'. The book held true to the subtitle. I heard Feldman interviewed on Book TV and after I read 'Managing Hysteria" I knew 'New Madrid' would be next. As a would be student of history he captured my intere
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Steve Barney
Aug 24, 2014 Steve Barney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting read. I liked relating/linking the history of the New Madrid earthquakes, Tecumseh and the pan-tribal movement, the Steamboat New Orleans, the Lewis brothers, etc. as an informative glimpse of this brief period of history. I certainly learned new things....and I thought it was well written.
Colin MacDonald
It's less about the earthquakes themselves than about life and politics on what was at the time the western frontier of America. Well-written and interesting, even though that period is not generally my thing (I read this for a book club).
Lisa
Feb 29, 2016 Lisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-nature
The first chapter just about killed me, I wanted to take it back to the library! But I'm glad I stuck with it, it went much better, and I really enjoyed it! More unknown history!
Jack
Dec 08, 2015 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I truly enjoyed this. The author manages to take the New Madrid earthquakes and combine it with the surrounding history of the time to make a great book. A good read for history buffs.
Kelly
Jun 04, 2015 Kelly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting parts of history woven together. Tecumseh and native history, the Mississippi and boats, settlers, earthquakes, and War of 1812. Wow.
Sandi
May 22, 2016 Sandi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting story of many things coming together war earthquakes But I wanted more to do with the title
David R.
Sep 13, 2012 David R. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The scene: the frontier settlement of New Madrid (and related places) in December 1811. And the world is about to change as a series of devastating earthquakes strike. Feldman brings into the story several rather different sets of characters, including Native American leader Tecumseh, seeking a last stand against the expanding United States, the ruthless slave murderer Lilburne Lewis, steamboat entrepreneur Nicholas Roosevelt, and others. The storytelling is wonderful and there's even a little g ...more
Janet
Jun 27, 2016 Janet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting story about the worst earthquake to ever hit the continental United States. This happened in 1811. Everyone knows that California has fault lines and there is always talk of when the 'big one' hits but very few people are aware of the fault line in the Mississippi River Valley area. The book combines the earthquake story with the politics of the time and the push west by settlers. Two main players in the story are Tecumseh and William Henry Harrison and their conflict. Highly re ...more
Michelle
Sep 18, 2011 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Very interesting book about the 1811-1812 earthquakes in the New Madrid, MO area. It will facinate anyone who wants to know more about the worst earthquakes to hit the United States in a place where most people do not expect to have earthquakes. It is a short read - I would have liked it to go into more detail because I have not yet found a book that really gives an entire account of this natural disaster.
Vicki
I'm not much of a non-fiction reader because I don't enjoy material presented without a story. That said, the presentation of the material in this book was appealing and kept my interest. It didn't center on the earthquakes, which was a disappointment for me, but it did pull together several different pieces of history from this forgotten time period. I found it a rather interesting read.
Vivian
An OK book in imparting information, but I think it is likely better books have been written on all of the competing threads of this book. It felt scattered. Treating the murder of a slave and the uprising of tens of indian tribes as part of the war of 1812 as the same level of importance seemed like a lack of sense of proportion.
Pam
May 14, 2014 Pam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science, nature
Jay Feldman expertly interweaves multiple events in American history with the impending New Madrid earthquake of 1811 creating a compelling read. I was a small bit disappointed with the end of the book and thought that Feldman had difficulty winding up the stories he had established earlier. Overall this is a great book!
John
Jun 27, 2011 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like the way the author told the story of the New Madrid earthquakes in 1811 and 1812. The story is told through several areas of North American history; Native Americans, growth of the United States, and the War of 1812. This is not a scientifice study of earthquakes and Plate Techtonics is kepts to a minimum.
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