Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild

Lee Sandlin, Author
Lee Sandlin. Pantheon, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-307-37851-4
Reviewed on: 05/02/2011
Release date: 10/01/2010
In this love song to the Mississippi river, Chicago journalist Sandlin winds through mythology and history, from the early 19th century, when the Chippewa peopled its banks, to the metamorphosed post-Civil War river culture. In first-time author Sandlin's hands, the Mississippi, splitting two expanses of land, is itself a split entity: a terrible destroyer that sent boats into "wild convulsions as the men clung on desperately"; a road to wealth; a holy ground; a hotspot for gamblers and prostitutes; a place loaded with violence and art. Sandlin also covers the river's legendary presence in American literature, specifically in the fiction of Mark Twain. Rather than seeing the Mississippi as merely a geographical feature, the author focuses on the river as a muse, a myth, and as a catalyst of culture. Sandlin's enthusiasm is infectious and his story is as vivid as that of any river-dweller tall tale; social historians and fans of Americana alike will traverse the book with the same sense of adventure as Huckleberry Finn rafting the river. (Oct.)
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