This spring, the Mississippi River asserted its strength, as record rainfall in the midwest led to a historic rise in the river’s level. Of course, those who live on the banks of the Mississippi are more than familiar with the river’s power, a fact Lee Sandlin makes clear in his book Wicked River: The Mississippi When it Last Ran Wild, available now in paperback.
Set in the early to mid 19th century, Wicked River tells the tale of an American landmark that holds a unique sway on the country. Sandlin brings to life a place where river pirates brushed elbows with future presidents and religious visionaries shared passage with thieves. He also discusses some of the most tragic events in the river’s history, including accounts of Natchez being flattened by a tornado; the St. Louis harbor being crushed by a massive ice floe; and the sinking of the Sultana, the worst naval disaster in American history. The Mississippi itself becomes a vibrant character: gorgeous, perilous, and unpredictable.
Praise for Wicked River:
“In this lush, exuberant, action-packed and history-drenched book, Sandlin has brought the river back home again…. A vivid torrent of facts and passions, in an inspired agitation of water and words…. Wicked River is the best kind of history book. It is organized around people and their fates, not wars and dates and treaty signings. It artfully separates reality from fables, but it recognizes that fables have a story to tell, too, that our tall tales and our songs and our exaggerations and our mythologies can be as revelatory as topographical maps and temperature charts.”
“Gripping stuff…. Appreciators of what Greil Marcus calls the Old, Weird America will savor Wicked River. Its many ghastly scenes, vividly rendered by Mr. Sandlin, started showing up in my dreams…. I was surprised, upon finishing Wicked River, to read that this confident and swift-moving book is the author’s first. It makes one eager for the next.”
—John Jeremiah Sullivan, The Wall Street Journal
“Entertaining…. Chicago essayist and journalist Lee Sandlin tells tales about the Mississippi in the days when the river and the people who floated on it or lived along it were wild and untamed in the extreme…. A lot of fun to read.”
—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Remarkable…. Told with the same verve and affinity for a good yarn that encomia to the river tend to inspire, Wicked River looks at life along the Mississippi in the 19th century, before Twain had us thinking it was all Americana adventures…. Sandlin may singlehandedly destroy the view that the Midwest is a mellow place.”
—Time Out Chicago
“Marvelously captured…. A superb book debut…. Sandlin writes of a recurring sense of looming catastrophe that gripped many residents…. Fascinating.”
“Sumptuous writing and fascinating tales of the days when life on the Mississippi was rough and wild…. Sandlin transports readers back to a renegade time on the Mississippi, a rollicking ride full of marauders, floating brothels and rough characters spit straight from the pen of Twain himself. Sandlin’s own prose style is a fluvial joy.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune