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

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  4,583 ratings  ·  464 reviews
In 1927, the Mississippi River swept across an area roughly equal in size to Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined, leaving water as deep as thirty feet on the land stretching from Illinois and Missouri south to the Gulf of Mexico. Close to a million people—in a nation of 120 million—were forced out of their homes. Some estimates place the death t ...more
Paperback, 524 pages
Published April 2nd 1998 by Simon Schuster (first published April 9th 1997)
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Jul 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: american-history
Barry gives us much more than the story of a flood. We get the history of the Mississippi Delta and of the efforts to tame the river, still a work in progress. He shows how the politics of Mississippi and Louisiana were shaped by the river and how the river’s turmoil spread to Washington even determining who would be president. We learn about the plantation sharecropping system of the 1920’s in the Delta and how the Great Flood of 1927 showed Delta blacks were essentially treated as still slaves ...more
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I picked up this book wondering how any author could spend over 400 pages documenting the Mississippi River flooding of 1927. The raging flood came, went away, better levees were built -- right? Well, there's a lot more to it than that. This worthy volume takes the reader from 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- ...more
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-general
I found this a fantastic look at both the geology/hydrology of the Mississippi River and the society that grew around its delta. Mr. Barry does a very commendable job of exploring both the problems and advantages of living next to the longest river in North America.

The author starts out the narrative by exploring the attempts to tame the Mississippi Riven the late 19th Century and the rivalry that developed between two men – Gen Andrew Humphreys – head of the Army’s Engineer Department and a sel
Sep 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book explains many issues that I never understood from my basic "public-school-history-class-taught-by-a-coach" years. When did blacks defect from the Republican party, the party of Lincoln, and flock to the Democrat party? Why did they do that? When did the federal government first step in to organize help after a disaster where before local communities were on their own?

I have read John Barry's other book on "The Great Influenza", and found it to be an absolutely excellent book. This book
Oct 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Don’t let the title fool you, while the focus of the book is the great 1927 flood (an event overlooked today), this is a book about the Mississippi River and man’s attempt to live with and in some cases tame it. Full of rich descriptions of men and women whose lives were shaped by the river and the 1927 flood, and of powerful men who tried to control and profit from it, including one who became President, this book really grabs you from the outset.

Starting with early attempts to erect bridges ov
Quite interesting - historically, politically, geographically, scientifically....and, to a lesser degree than what I'd hoped for, a sociological exploration of the massive Mississippi River basin and the flood of 1927 in relation to agriculture, geographical division, political power, economy, transportation, and race relations. An exceptionally noteworthy book, in that it's studiously researched and documented, yet maintains an entertaining, conversational fluidity. However, there were times wh ...more
Steve Bennett
Nov 03, 2011 marked it as to-read
Charley Patton expertly summarized both the majesty and impact of the great Mississippi flood of 1927 in under three minutes in High Water Everywhere.

"Well, backwater done rose all around Sumner now,
drove me down the line
Backwater done rose at Sumner,
drove poor Charley down the line
Lord, I'll tell the world the water,
done crept through this town

Lord, the whole round country,
Lord, river has overflowed
Lord, the whole round country,
man, is overflowed
You know I can't stay here,
I'll go wh
May 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
One day in the mid seventies while driving across the great plains and listening to Don McLean sing American Pie, It was a great time to be in America,most Americans needed little instruction in how they wanted to live. They were optimistic about the future. The black and white days were over.
Bye bye, Miss American Pie.
drove my Chevy to the levee
but the levee was dry.
I turned to my brother and his partner and asked what is a levee?
They both looked at me as if what kind of trolodyke I might be.
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
There's nothing worse for an old American history major to read a book and discover how ignorant of that history he really is. The 1927 flood of the Mississippi River may have been the worst natural disaster in terms of people displaced and society destroyed that America has ever faced; it quite simply dwarfs Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The author details the battles over man's often futile attempts to control the Mississippi; the rich and racist white society that controlled the Deep South and t
Bonnie Huval
Aug 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
This is one of the most powerful books I've ever read. It's thick but I would not have wanted it any shorter. I was born in Texas because of this flood. My father's parents added up their earnings from a year of sharecropping in southern Louisiana, and it came to $14. They moved to get jobs for several years. But until I read this book, I had no idea that my family is only a tiny ripple of lingering consequences from that flood. Aftereffects are visible in local and national politics in the USA. ...more
Tim Martin
This book was far, far more than the story of the 1927 Mississippi River flood, the author skillfully presenting a number of other stories that while not directly about the famous flood, both impacted the flood and were impacted by it, stories that weren’t “one and done” so to speak but ones in which the author would present and then come back to to a greater or lesser degree, with the reader really appreciating I think why those other stories were told. I really admired Barry’s writing style, o ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating book about the enormous flood that inundated much of the Mississippi basin in 1927. In fact, the flood covered an areas greater than several northeastern states combined. The flood stretched from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, and in some places the water was thirty feet deep. In a nation of 120 million, over one million were left homeless.

The reasons for the flood were numerous: a river policy that emerged from the hatred of two engineers (James Eads and Andrew Humphreys)
Bob Cook
Jun 24, 2012 rated it really liked it

I read Rising Tide after being educated and entertained by Barry's more recent Roger Williams. That was a mistake. In Rising Tide we are given a detailed...a very detailed...story of a truly enormous and tragic history of an American natural disaster that I had never before known about. The enormity of the flood, however was trumped by the flood of anecdotes and details. A more careful job of editing would have improved my appreciation of Barry's research and scholarship.

That said, Rising Tide
Dec 31, 2016 rated it liked it
This wasn't a bad read, but it was disappointing in one major way: 3/4 of the book had basically nothing to do with the flood of 1927. Almost every page was about the history of the competing, mistaken beliefs about the Mississippi River Valley, including several short-form biographies of the famous men who held those beliefs. I was pleased to see several names pop up of people I've read about in other books -- Leander Perez, Isaac Cline -- because they helped give the story context and helped o ...more
Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
John M. Barry's Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America is a surprisingly interesting take on efforts since the early 1800s to tame the largest and wildest river system in the country. These efforts have been the result of often-vicious debates among hydrologists that lend a human background to the story, and show that while science might always be rational, scientists aren't.

In fact, I think the lessons about river management are so important that I'll focus
Frank Stein
Jan 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
An amazing book that goes far beyond the story of the 1927 flood.

Although like most popular history books today its subtitle contains the words "...and How It Changed America," the most interesting and extensive part of the book actually deals with the background to the flood.

Barry tells the amazing story of the Mississippi Delta, which, due to its association with the Blues, I had always assumed was a particularly backward and racist region. Turns out that one semi-benevolent planter family (
Jacob Aitken
Aug 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
John Barry begins his story with a prologue that describes a quasi-aristocratic party held near the Mississippi River with the threat of a flood hanging overhead. The leading men in the city attending the party are given a warning of the threat that the levees may not hold and they then drive out to the levees to examine them. The prologue leaves the reader hanging wondering the importance of the men and the relevance over whether the levees hold. In the following pages, Barry outlines his thesi ...more
blue-collared mind
May 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Well, well here we are again. Another hot summer has started and water is rising down South. At least this time we're not at the mercy of the Army Corps-oh wait. Hmmm. (Pack your paperwork, I beseech you my river neighbors.Just in case.)

However, it is true that the earthen levee system of the Mississippi is much more substantial and a SYSTEM rather than the concrete pieces that were built on peat moss and sand along the canals of our Lake Pontchartrain and Industrial Canal here in New Orleans. W
Apr 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own-it
Packed with incredible depth and detail, Rising Tide beautifully explores the context and historical significance of the 1927 Mississippi River flood. While its content is very dense (and thoroughly well-researched), Barry still manages to craft this story so that it reads like a wonderfully engaging novel. He combines the engineering, scientific, political, and social aspects of the region and the time period quite seamlessly.

The valuable information and perspective packed into the book's 500+
Jeff Crompton
May 01, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This book is an amazing achievement. I expected to learn much about the 1927 Mississippi River flood, but Barry's book has a much wider scope. It begins with the stories of the 19th-century engineers who knew the river intimately, and how their disagreements set the stage for devastation in the 20th century. By the end of the book, Barry has clearly set forth the ways in which the flood changed our country - in terms of public policy, racial politics, populist politics, even why New Orleans cont ...more
Jan 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Frankly, I was not aware of the importance of the sequence of events surrounding the great flood of 1927 and the lasting effect this drama had on American history. Herbert Hoover's rise to prominence, the shifting of power within racial politics, the class wars in New Orleans -- all engrossing. (This was still an era when a lawman could charge into a black man's home, kill him, and get away with it.) This is a "big" book which is brilliantly researched. I'm glad I read it and I highly recommend ...more
Feb 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
Recommended to SteveR by: Randy Cates
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is interesting on many levels. Part of the book addresses technical and engineering aspects of the Mississippi river - i.e. levies, jetties, inlets and outlets - including engineering studies and the Army Corp of Engineering dating back to the civil war. It also addresses people, politicians, industry, segregation and discrimination in the US and south.

The flood of 1927 was unprecedented and devastating. It seems to have brought out the best … and worst of American citizens, local poli
John Alsdorf
Jun 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Well written, captivating exploration of the powers of a river (he explains the science of currents well), the delusions and hubris of man (thinking we can master creation) and the depravity of man (evident in the indifference of the powerful to those of a different race and class). Barry weaves all this together in a compelling narrative of a pivotal event in history.

This year's (2011's) floods have been called repeatedly "the worst since 1927," so it might be interesting to go back and re-read
Aug 12, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of those books that is more educational than fun to read. I couldn't help but think that it could have made a good expose but is a little tedious as a novel. The big takeaways from this book are how destructive the flood of 1927 was, how political the decisions governing our approach to managing the Mississippi have been and are, how Herbert Hoover came to be president,and - perhaps, most interestingly - how the Republican party starting marginalizing and alienating African Americans ...more
Feb 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is not an obvious book to read about disasters. BUT I can add that it is a GREAT book to read. It's very well researched and very informative about the power plays between the Corps of Engineers and private individuals to determine how and where levies should/shoud not be built. You also learn about the political figures of the days, the geographical significance of the rivers involved, and the social and cultural issues in the areas where the flood occurred. There's pictures of the people ...more
Steve Bookman
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Magisterial historical writing style. This book meticulously goes far back in time from the 1927 immediate emergency to trace the origins of the American style of dealing with a giant natural force -- the Mississippi River.

Many genuine surprises for the reader. Origin of Federal interventionalism in the private economy stemmed from this disaster, not FDR's New Deal/Great Depression. Significant Black migration away from the Deep South to the industrial North accelerated. Herbert Hoover actually
Jun 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
I learned so much from this book. I had honestly never realized that the magnitude of the flooding happened in part because of conflicting politics, that the levees didn't have to be blown up to save New Orleans, that Coolidge was an ineffective president, that Hoover manipulated and used high ranking black officials to obtain their vote, that no one seemed to care about the people who lost everything in the floods... it was eye opening, and I was completely riveted. Definitely recommend to non- ...more
Dec 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If you want to know about how the Mississippi River works, start with reading this book. It's a classic.
Kathy Hurt-Mullen
Mar 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating and great context for understanding the many failures of the post-Katrina response.
Aug 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
I learned more about the Mississippi Delta in this book than I was expecting. And enough about river science to make me really, really afraid of the monster that is the Mississippi River.
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John M. Barry is an American author and historian, perhaps best known for his books on the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 the influenza pandemic of 1918 and his book on the development of the modern form of the ideas of separation of church and state and individual liberty. His most recent book is Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty (Vikin ...more

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