Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild
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Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  425 ratings  ·  94 reviews
From award-winning journalist Lee Sandlin comes a riveting look at one of the most colorful, dangerous, and peculiar places in America’s historical landscape: the strange, wonderful, and mysterious Mississippi River of the nineteenth century.

Beginning in the early 1800s and climaxing with the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, Wicked River takes us back to a time before the Missi...more
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Published October 19th 2010 by Vintage (first published January 1st 2010)
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A fascinating, if often hyperbolic and disjointed, look at the Mississippi River and especially the communities surrounding it, not to mention the customs and eccentric characters that thrived on the river frontier. It might also be called, the Book of Lists.

I was surprised by the importance of prostitution to communities in the 19th century frontier society. Their importance was so crucial as to be almost "structural." Women were a rarity, often outnumbered by men 20-1, and it was common for so...more
Elaine Nelson
A semi-chronological narrative of life along the Mississippi River, primarily before the Civil War, when the river valley was still part of the frontier. It was a dangerous place, both from nature (storms, earthquakes, the river itself) and from other humans (lots of drunkenness and piracy). Includes the origin of the term "lynching", which didn't always mean hanging. Found myself unreasonably amused by the fact that the voyageurs (boatmen, somewhat expendable) were known for their red shirts. T...more
Oct 21, 2010 Mike rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, card sharks, men and women with eyes like lightning
Wicked River: the Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild beautifully recreates a lost time and place, that of the Mississippi River from the beginning of the 19th century until past that century's midpoint and just after the Civil War. Early on Mr. Sandlin observes that his early conception of the Mississippi river — shaped largely on the template of Mark Twain's nostalgia — so diverged from its current reality that he found it difficult to recognize. I had a similarly underwhelming experience with t...more
If you want to learn more about the history of life on the Mississippi, this is a great book. In fact, even if you never thought you wanted to learn about this topic, it's a good introduction to that stretch of water that so much influenced the development of the U.S. Lee Sandlin is an eloquent writer, sometimes downright poetic in a way that's not at all heavy-handed, and ranges over a wide variety of topics. In the end, I was left a little wistful about the taming of this wild and wicked river...more
Mark Butt
It's a book, about a river, and how past authors have interpreted it and its place in American history. I was a bit taken aback by the grandiose writing of the author yet it did contain quite a few gems, highlighting the symbolism of it especially during the US expansionist times of the 1800s. His observations of the river of today as simply a dim shadow of its original composition in a physical sense (damming, river re-routing, etc. since it's discovery) was illuminating and forced me to think...more
Possibly the most fascinating -- even gripping -- history book I've ever read, easily as difficult to put down as a good piece of fiction. Definitely made me think. An excellent piece of Americana; cannot recommend it enough.
Melanie Spiller
Apr 01, 2014 Melanie Spiller rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mark Wiederanders
Shelves: american-history
What a fun book. This engaging read is a history book, but so filled with outrageous vignettes that it's almost as entertaining as reading Mark Twain's account of the same river. The author talks about politics, civil engineering, social morays, flood, religion, weather, fire, war, and romance, and weaves it all together skillfully.

I wasn't 40 pages into the book before I started making a list of people I know who would love it. Even if you're not a history buff, or not an American history buff...more
Wicked River shares with Old Man River the failure to coalesce into any unified narrative. There just is no reason to read either of these books as a whole. The author here at least infuses his delight in the dark side of the folk history of the river, and the gore (and to a lesser extent sex) spills off the page like a Tarantino movie (Django Unchained, I suppose). But again we have as much a bathroom reader as a history, with no sense of why the place ended up the way it did and few scattered...more
Larry Coleman
Sandlin is not a bad storyteller, even if he does lean a little too much on some sources to the point that you begin to lose the feeling that you're listening to him tell a story but instead you're reading a story he's reading to you from someone else.

I call him a storyteller because that's the tone he sets; this book isn't a scholarly, comprehensive history of the river, and it doesn't try to be. Instead, it is a three-mile diorama of its own, filled with sketches illustrating certain scenes an...more
Suzanne Kittrell
This is my first NOOK BOOK!!!!

I have been wanting to read this book all Fall but could not get my hands on it until I was able to download it onto my new NOOK. How easy was that? And how dangerous it can be to have that book you've been wanting to read drop in on your screen in about 30 seconds.

Anyway, this is a history of what the Mississippi River and what was called the River Valley that this waterway carved out of the middle of the country. Time is centered mainly around the 1810s to the 1...more
Jim Gallen
“Wicked River” presents the history of the Mississippi from the early 19th century through the period just after the Civil War. While it does tell something about the river itself before it was tamed and turned into a controlled canal, most of the book is about the people who lived and traveled on and along it. We read of its boatmen, the cities along its banks, the earthquake that roiled its waters, a battle fought along its bluffs and tragedies on its waves. The reader is introduced to the fla...more
Quinn Rollins
I've never seen the Mississippi River. Living in the Western United States, if I didn't travel, you could argue that I'd never see a river worthy of the title. The Mississippi has been a part of so much of this country's history that it runs like a current through time. Author Lee Sandlin takes the past, wild life of the Mississippi River and brings it forward to the 21st Century in Wicked River: The Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild.

Sandlin uses the writings of Mark Twain as a jumping-off poin...more
J.M. Cornwell
Fascinating, brilliant and anecdotally rich.

The river that Mark Twain immortalized in Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and his memoirs about being a river boat pilot is not the Mississippi that had been tamed and taught to run through between canals and levees, but the river that existed before the mid nineteenth century. That is the Wicked River that once ran wild in all its glory and destruction, and the river that Lee Sandlin writes about.

There were once hundreds of books by travelers and deni...more
An unexpectedly rich historical glimpse of human life along the Mississippi River, and the nature of the river itself. The author, Lee Sandlin, sets out to capture the nature of the river before any dam or diversion was embedded along its course, or bridge built across it. Interwoven with the river stories is an equally fascinating glimpse of human society on the edge of a frontier, with many civilizing norms left behind.

He quickly establishes that the river was once far more wild and treachero...more
Lee Sandlin's first book is a history of the Euro-American settlement of the Mississippi valley from about 1800 through the Civil War. Sandlin seems to have picked this period for a couple of reasons, first because the river had not been extensively engineered udring this period and because the valley was roughly the frontier of settlement.

Sandlin does not write about a single topic in Wicked River but about a variety of social and environmental topics. In the first decade or so discussed, trave...more
David Williams
Old Man River. The Father of Waters. The Big Muddy. These are all names that are used for the great river of North America: The Mississippi. The Mississippi River has been an important part of the history, literature, commerce, and myth of the United States for generations. At the end of the War of Independence it became the western boundary of the United States. The navigation of the river was vital to the settlers who moved west of the Allegheny Mountains after the war. After the Louisiana Pur...more
The Mississippi holds a place in the American mythos that no other river can claim - no other river has been written about, talked about, mythologised and anthropomorphised in the same way. From the 'Old Man River' of Mark Twain, from Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, to the visions of Abraham Lincoln on his wooden raft and the gracious steamboats plying their way up and downstream, laden with Southern belles and gamblers and rough-housing pilots, there is something about the Mississippi that has...more
I live mere feet from the Mississippi, so I figured I oughta learn a bit about the history of the the river. I don't quite know what I was expecting, but it wasn't Wicked River. That doesn't make Wicked River a bad book -it's actually pretty entertaining and a quick read- but I was actually looking (shockingly) for something a little more text-booky. I suppose I wanted something in the vein of '1776' -somewhat easy to read but still fact and event-driven. Wicked River focuses on the history of t...more
Wicked River shows us the life on the Mississippi that Mark Twain forgot to mention in his writings. While Twain’s stories were entertaining they were “G” rated. Sandlin’s book is a PG-13 - sex, violence, high adventure, and low life...it's all here.

Read this and you’ll be entertained and informed. We often see the Mississippi as the river that roughly divides our nation’s east and west. We often forget that it was once our western frontier. What a wild and free-wheeling frontier it was, with da...more
David James
A social history rather than a linear history, this lively book offers a glimpse of life along the Mississippi during the first half of the 19th century and into the Civil War. And what a life it was, with dangers and disease at every bend, the bottle in one hand and the Bible in the other, and law and order, such as it was, enforced by mob rule and "Judge Lynch."

Sex, violence, high adventure, and low life...it's all here. Sandlin is a wonderful storyteller who sets his scenes vividly, choosing...more
I was a little hesitant about reading a river's biography, but I found this book to be quite entertaining. I grew up on the banks of the Mississippi, yet had no idea what an interesting history it's had. Sandlin describes life on and around the Mississippi River, focusing specifically on the early 1800s through the Civil War. I learned about the rise and fall of steamboats, that a person could fall asleep with the river on one side of his house and wake up the next day with it on the other side...more
As a kayaker, I have always been frustrated by the Illinois water laws compared to Wisconsin. You can't get out of the water without risking trespassing arrests. After reading this, now I get it! People who worked on the river were so notoriously crooked - thieves, etc. - that they were shot on sight by farmers and their help if seen on land. River people were also always drunk according to these anecdotes. So, no wonder all that worked itself into the state law.

Great stories and research using...more
Dec 03, 2010 Molly rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fan of Deadwood, Western movie cinephiles, everyone
Lee Sandlin has dredged the Mississippi River and found innumerable treasures of American history. If this book were taught in high school, I might have paid more attention because it's the kind of stuff that'll make your jaw drop with wonder and then delight you all the more because it's not fantasy. It is actual history--though this may be hard to believe.

It seems, in a way, that life before TV, highways, and mega-malls was significantly more cinematic. Not surprisingly. But, I'm talking the s...more
Jan Polep
Well, I may have to buy this book too...not because I loved it but because Steve dropped it in the snow. Life on the Mississippi is detailed from when boats only floated down river because the current was too strong to go back up, through the crowded heyday of river commerce and steamboats, to the point where river travel was zippo due to rail travel. Battle of Vicksburg is just plain sad, pirates/conmen/hookers make for spicey reading, but the thing that amazed me... even more than the New Madr...more
Brian Andersen
A most exciting book about the way the world once really was along the Mississippi up through the Civil War. Mostly it was a terrible lawless place where there was danger lurking at every turn. If any number of diseases did not kill you then a river bandit might have. We tend to think of modern society as self centered but in those days it seemed everyone was out looking for someone to con while in a perpetual drunken rage. Hardly the good old days of carefree times riding on a steamboat like Tw...more
I didn't expect a book about the Mississippi River to start in Chicago. But the city is journalist Lee Sandlin's hometown and a small tributary originates under the pavement in his neighborhood. It flows on to the Illinois River which dumps into the Mississippi after traveling across its home state. This fully urbanized trickle serves as an extreme counterpoint to Wicked River, Sandlin's history of the Mississippi River before it was tamed by technology.

You can read the rest of my review at Wic...more
Don O'goodreader
Wicked River: The Mississippi by Lee Sandlin recounts the history of the Mississippi during the first part of the nineteenth century from before the War of 1812 through the Civil War. Even though Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were a published decades later, this is the period Mark Twain wrote about.

I found the book fascinating with its combination of hard history and details from daily life. Sandlin draws on a wide variety of sources from old newspapers and broadsheets to diaries and letters. This is...more
Johanna Haas
Set of vignettes on the Mississippi when the river and the people living on it were the edge of the American frontier. Wild and untamed, these true stories are the stuff of tall tales.
Lee Sandlin delivers a rocking history of the Mississippi River before technology and commerce came in and ruined all the fun. Sandlin tips his hat to favorite son Mark Twain and gives you many anecdotes and lengthy narratives of the legends of the valley and the residents who lived along its banks. This is the type of book that makes you appreciate that US History isn't always dull- in fact, many times it's just waiting for an author like Sandlin to come along and write it. A fantastic and eye-...more
Carol Hofer
It had some great history. A little slow at times, but overall interesting.
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