Old Man River
The Mississippi River in North American History
By Paul Schneider
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805091366, 416pp.)
Publication Date: September 3, 2013
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A fascinating account of how the Mississippi River shaped America
In Old Man River, Paul Schneider tells the story of the river at the center of America’s rich history—the Mississippi. Some fifteen thousand years ago, the majestic river provided Paleolithic humans with the routes by which early man began to explore the continent’s interior. Since then, the river has been the site of historical significance, from the arrival of Spanish and French explorers in the 16th century to the Civil War. George Washington fought his first battle near the river, and Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman both came to President Lincoln’s attention after their spectacular victories on the lower Mississippi.
In the 19th century, home-grown folk heroes such as Daniel Boone and the half-alligator, half-horse, Mike Fink, were creatures of the river. Mark Twain and Herman Melville led their characters down its stream in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Confidence-Man. A conduit of real-life American prowess, the Mississippi is also a river of stories and myth.
Schneider traces the history of the Mississippi from its origins in the deep geologic past to the present. Though the busiest waterway on the planet today, the Mississippi remains a paradox—a devastated product of American ingenuity, and a magnificent natural wonder.
Paul Schneider is the acclaimed author of Bonnie and Clyde, Brutal Journey, The Enduring Shore, and The Adirondacks, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book. He and his family live in West Tisbury, Massachusetts.
“[A] vivid history.”—The New Yorker
“In fabulous yarn-spinning sentences, [Schneider] whirs through the geologic eras in which the river was formed…A fabulous romp…Schneider is a marvelously personable tour guide…Schneider has a real knack for capturing life on the river.”—Barnes and Noble Review
"Schneider’s book stands out… It’s another reminder of how we took the river’s heritage for granted for far too long, and why it’s worth scrambling today to reclaim and maintain as much of it as we can."—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Paul Schneider recounts history as a novelist might. Once you start one of his books, you find yourself unable to put it down. As I read his story of the Mississippi, I feel like I am revisiting early America on board a raft with Huck and Tom and runaway Jim. I think Mark Twain would be one of the first to congratulate Mr. Schneider on his splendid new book."—James Lee Burke
"I have heard and sung the painful ballad ‘Old Man River,’ since my childhood in the 40’s, but it was only when I read Paul Schneider’s Old Man River, I took a deeper look at the Mississippi River and truly understood with greater clarity how, as the author puts it, ‘the river’s history is our history.’ Travelling with Paul Schneider’s words and heart is an eye-opening adventure well worth taking."—Charlayne Hunter-Gault, author of In My Place
"A terrific, wonderfully written account of the river, the peoples past and present who lived there, what they loved and what they loathed (often foreigners), how they lived and died and explored and ought in the Old Man’s shadow. His tale unfolds from the beginning of north American time and it’s the best detective story you’ll read this year."—Ward Just, author of An Unfinished Season and Exiles in the Garden
"A fascinating and passionate profile of the river that shaped American history and culture."—Rosemary Mahoney, author of Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff
"Vividly peopled and comprehensively marshaled, this account makes a fine and flowing read, summarizing the ineffable."—Edward Hoagland, author of Notes from the Century Before and Sex and the River Styx
"Paul Schneider takes us on a hugely entertaining journey along one of the world’s greatest waterways. It is a pageant of astounding color and variety, sweeping from mammoths, mastodons and paleo-Indians to the British Petroleum disaster, and from Cahokia, the largest pre-Columbian city in America, to fabulous New Orleans. We meet an extraordinary cast of characters, the Spanish conquistadors, French voyageurs, Iroquois raiders, explorers and empire builders of different hues and tongues, river pirates, bare-knuckled boatmen, the ranks of the blue and gray, slaves and civil engineers. The scope is breath-taking, and the seamless blend of history, culture and science is exceptional. This is a lucid, immensely diverting excursion that could only have been written by one who not only knows but loves the Mississippi, and fears for the future of this entrancing and mighty, but acutely vulnerable, highway. It is a great read for anyone who values Americana."—John Sugden, author of Nelson: The Sword of Albion
"Reminiscent of a Ken Burns documentary...this historical book becomes surprisingly moving and meditative."--Cedar Rapids Gazette
"Stunning...With such an expert hand on the tiller, Old Man River is an astonishing journey."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Nonfiction lovers with eclectic tastes and readers bored by a single-discipline approach will love Schneider’s multiple-angle portrait of the Mississippi watershed. The territory Schneider studies is what some dismiss as "flyover country," but what fascinating stories "flyover country" has to tell!"—Booklist
"Another chockablock, environmentally focused, ambitious volume from Schneider...A wild ride well worth taking."—Kirkus