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Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History    by Paul Schneider order for
Old Man River
by Paul Schneider
Order:  USA  Can
Picador, 2014 (2013)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book
* *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

The Mississippi River is a huge river with a history as lengthy and important as the waterway itself. In Old Man River: The Mississippi River in North American History Paul Schneider looks at the early history of the river.

Beginning with the geology and a discussion of the age of dinosaurs and glacial action, the author then moves on to looking at the various Native American tribes who called the river and its environs home. That is followed by chapters on the role Spanish, French and British explorers played in opening the river and the westward influx of settlers from the eastern seaboard area.

In one of the most entertaining sections of the book, Schneider delves into the various types of travel on the river (flatboats, keelboats and steamboats) as well as some of the interesting types of people - from pirates to gamblers - who operated on or near the Mississippi and its tributaries.

You'll find shorter sections towards the end of the book on the Civil War, especially the battle for Vicksburg, and the changes to the river brought by flood control and channel protection overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Since this is an ambitious book, don't expect to find everything you'd like to know about the Mississippi. But, for an overview that is both informative and very readable, this would be an excellent book to start with. You'll get a decent foundation upon which to grow your knowledge of this complicated topic.

Also, you will discover that some parts of the story may interest you more than others. Take note of these areas and go back and read more detailed books that focus on geology, early inhabitants, cultural issues, or the ways the transportation is impacted by the network of rivers in the Mississippi system of waterways.

To lighten the topic, the author shares some of his personal experiences while traveling on the Mississippi and its tributaries. This gives the narrative a more conversational tone and makes it less pedantic.

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