336 pages, 40 illustrations
In the first long-term environmental history of the Mississippi, Christopher Morris offers a brilliant tour across five centuries as he illuminates the interaction between people and the landscape, from early hunter-gatherer bands to present-day industrial and post-industrial society. Morris shows that when Hernando de Soto arrived at the lower Mississippi Valley, he found an incredibly vast wetland, the largest in North America, but by the 1890s, the valley was rapidly drying. Morris reveals how centuries of increasingly intensified human meddling – including deforestation, swamp drainage, the introduction of foreign species of animals and plants, and levee construction – led to drought, disease, and severe flooding.
Valley residents have been paying the price ever since, most visibly with the disaster that followed Hurricane Katrina. Morris concludes that the problem with Katrina is the problem with the Amazon Rainforest, drought and famine in Africa, and fires and mudslides in California – it is the end result of the ill-considered bending of natural environments to human purposes.
"Christopher Morris has molded a thoroughly researched, smartly organized, and thoughtfully argued book."
– Jack E. Davis, Journal of American Studies
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