Book Review of “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America” by John M. Barry

Posted: July 27, 2016 in Book Reviews, Examples and Analyses of Lack of Leadership and Unquintessential Leadership
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Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed AmericaRising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John M. Barry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After unprecedented continuous and heavy rain storms from the summer of 1926 through the spring of 1927 along the Mississippi River, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 became the worst and most destructive river flood in the history of the United States, with 27,000 square miles along the river overwhelmed and buried by water at depths up to 30 feet.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America doesn’t just document this historic natural disaster. Instead it comprehensively looks at all the factors, many of them more than a century in the making, that coalesced over time to create not only this disaster, but the response to it, and the way it dramatically changed life, especially in the lower Mississippi, from the Mississippi Delta to the swamp country below New Orleans, forever.

This book is gripping and grabs you into the story, not only of the Mississippi River, but of America: its geography, its people, its society, its military, its power enclaves in business, government, life and the deep and fatal flaws of each of those that, ultimately led to this disaster and its aftermath.

For people like me, with a strong scientific bent, the numbers, the physics, the math, the structure, and the detailed solutions for harnessing the destructive power of the river are enthralling, but they are presented in a way that anyone can easily understand, especially when the flaws in thinking because of ignorance and/or laziness crop up along the way.

There are no heroes in this story, only mere limited humans. Some were downright villainous: self-absorbed, narcissistic, mean, hate-filled, murderous, deceitful, and motivated simply by pride, vanity, and greed. Others were products of their environments and experiences, believing they were altruistic, good, and devoted to the greater good, while in fact when push came to shove, the darkness of their hearts revealed itself as well.

Even the one man who knew the Mississippi River better than anyone else (and probably still stands alone in that intimate knowledge of the river) and had the engineering genius to know how to properly harness its power for good and did everything within his power to make that happen, James Eads, had flaws of character that emerged under pressure.

It’s often been said that we will never know how strong we are until we are surrounded by and confronted in every space of our lives with the impossible.

I believe – in fact, I know from experience for certain – that we will never know or understand how truly weak we are – where the hidden deep and destructive flaws of our hearts, our souls, our minds, and, indeed, our very nature and character are – until we are inundated at every turn with the impossible.

It is at this point where we have the opportunity to choose: to fully and humbly commit and endeavor to completely change and replace the very broken, the fatally flawed, and the intrinsic dastardly wrongs that permeate the human heart or to fully and proudly embrace them and feed and grow them to their fullest extent.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, at its core, is about the choices of America, its people as a whole, its society, its government, and, in fact, every single individual in the face of these weaknesses.

The choices disappoint. The weaknesses have continued to grow and to even more deeply become interwoven in the America – its people, its government, its society, and every single individual (including you and including me, if we have the courage and the honesty to admit it) – of 2016.

There is no concern or care for each other anywhere in the fabric of America and its organizations and institutions. Everything is about greed, power, and money. We destroy each other at every turn and in every nook and cranny of our society for our own benefit and for our own profit. We oppress. We steal. We lie. We cheat. We deceive. We hate. We destroy.

And we wrap all up in a pretty paper with a bow and sing our praises and exalt ourselves as we run the victory laps of our destructiveness and proclaim our honor and glory without end, when instead we should be ashamed of ourselves and doing something to wash away our sins.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America is as current in its indictment of us as a nation, as a government, as a society, and as individuals as the century it covers that culminated in the preventable, but humanly inevitable, Great Mississippi flood of 1927.

The lessons here are instructive if we’re willing to learn them.

For those of us striving to be quintessential leaders, we must learn them and we must change as a result.

Otherwise, we have no claim at all to being quintessential or being leaders. We, instead are just pretenders, merely giving lip service to something that we know nothing about and want nothing to do with because doing it is infinitely harder – and requires so much more, and more than we are willing to give – than simply talking about it.

Are we merely talking a good game or are we doing the hard work?

View all my reviews

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