Lee Sandlin
Reification - Belles Lettres
Reification - Belles Lettres
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“Wicked River”

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Excerpts from the kindness of strangers

“A gripping book that plunges you into a rich dark stretch of visceral history. I read it in two sittings and got up shaken.”

— Garrison Keillor

“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. To write about the Mississippi as he does, the author has first had to master the river of books about the river, most of them truly obscure. He comes back with gripping stuff ... I was surprised, on finishing “Wicked River,” to read that this confident and swift-moving book is the author’s first. It makes one eager for the next. ”  » Read review

— The Wall Street Journal

“Wicked River" is the best kind of history book. It is organized around people and their fates, not wars and dates and treaty signings. ... In this lush, exuberant, action-packed and history-drenched book, Sandlin has brought the river back home again.”  » Read review

— Chicago Tribune

“Great high- and low-minded fun. Sandlin is the perfect Virgil on this journey downstream past gamblers, thieves, fires, and sexual revels.”  » Read review

— St. Louis Magazine

“Sandlin’s writing is concise, lively, and often wry and earthy -- although always grounded in fact. ... Wicked River does a marvelous job conveying the tumultuous and eclectic history of an American frontier in the nineteenth century.”  » Read review

— Biblioklept

“Marvelous... wickedly funny ... The Mississippi itself becomes the main character of Sandlin’s musings, and a violent, profane, drunken, calamitous, hypocritical, and wholly American character it is.is.”  » Read review

— Chapter 16

“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, conjuring early-19th-century Mississippi voyageurs, red-shirted wayfarers who bartered, bought and stole goods Up North that they transported downstream in primitive skiffs and flat-bottomed boats.”  » Read review

— Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“A pleasure to read, serious and silly, factual and frivolous, languid and swift. You’ll want a long cruise down the river when you finish reading the book.”  » Read review

— Clarion Friends

“Splendid. ... Intriguing. ... Full of great stories. ... makes for amusing and stimulating reading.”  » Read review

— Columbus Dispatch.

“Sandlin’s book is a feast of color, a revisionist history (or perhaps revivalist?) in the spirit of other recent histories of our not-so-gentle Midwestern past, like “Devil in the White City” and “Sin in the Second City.” ...Like the author from Hannibal whose shadow looms large over any work contemplating the mighty Mississippi, Sandlin deploys a gift for rollicking narrative and crafty prose that makes this one of the best nonfiction books of the year.”  » Read review

— New City

“Thorougly engaging, entertaining, and seductively educational history.”  » Read review

— The Denver Post.

“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. . . . Sandlin has done an impressive amount of research. For all that, his prose manages to avoid the snags and shoals of academic English. ... A lot of fun to read.”  » Read review

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Lee Sandlin’s hugely engaging story of the Mississippi River culture ... paints a vivid, almost mesmerizing picture of life on the river, a river which, before being channelized by the government and business, was truly wicked.”  » Read review

— Wichita Eagle

“Raucous, fascinating and fun... Sandlin debuts with a rollicking history of the Mississippi Valley before commerce and technology tamed it. ... Sandlin seems to have adopted some of Twain’s technique in Life On the Mississippi — i.e., disappearing for pages into long narratives/legends/rumors associated with the valley and its denizens. ... Sandlin provides some John McPhee-like detail about geology and riverine history, and also examines the human history of the region. ... Apart from his generous offering of surprising facts, it’s obvious that Sandlin loves the lore of the river, its narratives, legends and lies. ... Readers will delight in stories about Annie Christmas (who wrote tales about prostitutes), Marie Laveau (the Voodoo Queen), the Crow’s Nest pirates and John Murrell and his so-called “Mystic Clan. ...Gorgeous. ”

— Kirkus

Wicked River almost makes you feel guilty for enjoying an education so much. I learned things at every S-curve, neck deep in a fine, fine story. I lived a stone’s throw from that river, and though I knew it flowed through eons of meanness and sadness and ribaldry, I didn’t know it was this twisted. ”

— Rick Bragg, author of The Prince of Frogtown

“Great stuff, essential stuff, and yeah, wicked.” 

— Roy Blount Jr, author of Alphabet Juice and Long Time Leaving Dispatches From Up South

“Lee Sandlin has lived up to his epic subject, taking us into overlooked, if not forgotten, epochs of history and folklore. Through labor and erudition he weaves the incredibly complicated strands of a story that seems too big to contemplate into a coherent tale that is surprising and entertaining on every page. He’s made the river his own, and extends it as a welcome gift to the reader.“

— Anthony Walton, author of Mississippi: An American Journey

“What a wickedly wild ride of a read! I loved this book! It may be nonfiction, but Sandlin tells his stories with a narrative drive that any novelist would envy. The events and characters from the early days along the Mississippi, which he so evocatively recreates, are among the most fascinating you’ll ever encounter anywhere. Honest to god, reading history has never been more fun!”.

— William Kent Krueger, author of Heaven’s Keep

“One of the best books ever written about the Mississippi River. Each page rounds a new bend full of delirious missionaries, hell-bent-for-speed steamboat captains, and gaudy traders in ‘fancy girl’ slave prostitutes. You won’t put it down till you’ve read every steamy, malarial, fascinating page.”

— Mike Tidwell, author of Bayou Farewell

“Today we think of the Mississippi River as an elder statesman of the American landscape, but for most of the nineteenth century it was pure frontier: unruly, unregulated, and dangerous. Wicked River perfectly captures the great river’s secret history, overflowing with wonderfully chosen and impeccably delivered character sketches, set pieces, and side trips.”

— Scott W. Berg, author of Grand Avenues

“In a narrative worthy of Mark Twain, Lee Sandlin tells of the Mississippi River when it was not only wild but wicked, home to sharpers and humbuggers, jackanapes, tub thumpers, and naked revelers.  This is a grand tale of America’s mightiest river and the larger-than-life men and women who rode its waves into history.”

— Sandra Dallas, author of Whiter Than Snow and Prayers for Sale

“A fascinating book, rich in detail and lore, the kind of strange object one wants to curl up with for long periods of time and gaze into the past we know much less well than we imagine. Wicked River is bound to cause a stir among readers who always want to know a little more about some place or some thing than the usual sources allow. Reading it is going to school again, in the best possible way. An entrance into a world so magical and unlikely that every page is a new episode full of real swashbuckling, nasty critters (human), and the roiling history of the big bad river.”

— Frederick Barthelme, author of Waveland

“The book’s page are populated by a dizzying (and, at times, overwhelming) number of characters -- plantation owners, missionaries,soldiers, slaves, minstrels, circus freaks, war profiteers, witch doctors, riverboat gamblers, grifters, drunks, prostitutes, pirates, vigilantes, thieves, and killers. ... Sandlin has reclaimed a precious piece of our history.

— American Scholar


Purchase: It is alway nice to shop locally, and support your independent bookstore. You can also order online, or get the e-book.

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Lee Sandlin talks about Wicked River

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American History - Mississippi River and Valley

977