cover image Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure

Life on the Mississippi: An Epic American Adventure

Rinker Buck. Avid Reader, $32.50 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5011-0637-8

Journalist Buck, who documented his travels by covered wagon in The Oregon Trail, returns with a captivating and occasionally cantankerous account of the 2,000-mile, four-month flatboat journey he made in 2016 down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. Inspired by Pennsylvania farmer Jacob Yarder, whose 1782 expedition to Louisiana helped launch the flatboat era, and Harlan and Anna Hubbard, married artists who documented their own seven-year journey down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers in the 1944 book Shantytown: A River Way of Life, Buck built his own flatboat and assembled a politically and geographically diverse crew to help navigate it down some of the most treacherous waters in America. Throughout, he interweaves intriguing discussions of U.S. political, cultural, and economic history with sharp critiques of “traditional historians” who neglect “the hardscrabble, edgy lives of most 19th-century Americans,” reveries on how the light reflects off riverine landscapes, and tense accounts of modern hazards, including extensive lock-and-dam systems and barge traffic. He also draws memorable sketches of local characters he meets along the way, and offers fascinating tidbits about Newburgh, Ind.; New Madrid, Mo.; and other river towns. Rough-edged, well informed, and honest about his own blind spots, Buck is a winning tour guide. American history buffs and armchair adventurers will relish the trip. (Aug.)