The most recommended books about the Mississippi River

Who picked these books? Meet our 48 experts.

48 authors created a book list connected to the Mississippi River, and here are their favorite Mississippi River books.
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Book cover of Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman: Conservation Heroes of the American Heartland

Richard Munson Author Of Tech to Table: 25 Innovators Reimagining Food

From my list on the future of food.

Who am I?

Innovators long have fascinated me. I helped launch a clean-energy startup and advance legislation promoting environmental entrepreneurs. I’ve written biographies of Nikola Tesla (who gave us electric motors, radio, and remote controls) Jacques Cousteau (inventor of the Aqua Lung and master of undersea filming) and George Fabyan (pioneer of modern cryptography and acoustics), as well as a history of electricity (From Edison to Enron). I love reading (and writing) about ingenious and industrious individuals striving to achieve their dreams. 

Richard's book list on the future of food

Richard Munson Why did Richard love this book?

I was inspired by Horn’s observation that many of the men and women doing today’s most consequential environmental work would not call themselves environmentalists. Debunking the pervasive myths that conservation innovators must be bicoastal, political activists, Horn profiles a Montana rancher, a Kansas farmer, a Mississippi riverman, a Louisiana shrimper, and a Gulf fisherman—all stewards of the land offering creative ways to restore soils and protect wildlife.

By Miriam Horn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Kirkus Best Book of 2016

Many of the men and women doing today's most consequential environmental work-restoring America's grasslands, wildlife, soil, rivers, wetlands, and oceans-would not call themselves environmentalists; they would be too uneasy with the connotations of that word. What drives them is their deep love of the land: the iconic terrain where explorers and cowboys, pioneers and riverboat captains forged the American identity. They feel a moral responsibility to preserve this heritage and natural wealth, to ensure that their families and communities will continue to thrive.

Unfolding as a journey down the Mississippi River, Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman…

Book cover of West

Pamela Holmes Author Of The Curious Life of Elizabeth Blackwell

From my list on extraordinary women.

Who am I?

I’m fascinated by singular women who have found ways to express themselves and to flourish in the face of doubt. My experience of moving country as a child, family breakdown, losing a parent as a teenager, and dropping out has left me intrigued by other women with the drive to survive on their own terms. Of course, the social constraints a woman must overcome will vary according to when she lived, but common characteristics will be bravery and obstinacy. I’ve now written three novels about women who have succeeded against the odds. I hope the books I’ve recommended captivate you as much as they do me.

Pamela's book list on extraordinary women

Pamela Holmes Why did Pamela love this book?

American settler Cy Bellman leaves his daughter Bess to search for giant monsters in a Kentucky swamp.

It’s a brilliant story of a man’s obsession. But it’s Bess who fascinates.  While others doubt Bellman’s sanity, Bess believes in him. Young and vulnerable, when danger strikes, she’s as fierce as the wilderness her father faces.

She’s left to grow up in the care of an indifferent aunt. When Bess is touched inappropriately by the librarian, the girl takes evasive action. When the yard hand almost rapes her, she fights back, then with a snap, regains her composure to deal with a shocking death.

Davies uses words economically and poetically: they leave me breathless. Though short, the book’s an epic.

By Carys Davies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked West as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a Best Book of the Year by The Sunday Times (UK) * The Guardian (UK) * The Washington Independent Review of Books * Sydney Morning Herald * The Los Angeles Public Library * The Irish Independent * Real Simple *

Finalist for the Rathbones Folio Prize

“Carys Davies is a deft, audacious visionary.” —Téa Obreht

When widowed mule breeder Cy Bellman reads in the newspaper that colossal ancient bones have been discovered in the salty Kentucky mud, he sets out from his small Pennsylvania farm to see for himself if the rumors are true: that the giant monsters are…

Book cover of Shaman

Rose Osterman Kleidon Author Of 1836: Year of Escape

From my list on immigration in the 1800s.

Who am I?

By chance, I was entrusted with rare historical documents about the immigrant generations in our family, which inspired this novel and grounded it in reality. Who wouldn’t wonder why they came? Besides, I have always been fascinated by pre-modern times and how steam power changed everything and dragged us along, kicking and screaming. And, even though they arrived in America in 1836, I grew up on the farm where they lived, so I heard tales of their amazing journey. It may be 186 years on, but it’s time to tell their story, which, it turns out, is a story for us all.  

Rose's book list on immigration in the 1800s

Rose Osterman Kleidon Why did Rose love this book?

Winner of the James Fenimore Cooper Prize for historical fiction, Shaman immerses readers in post-Revolution America of the 1830s, when Illinois was on a frontier defined by the Mississippi River. The characters include a doctor who fled from political turmoil in Scotland, members of the Sauk Indian tribe, runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad, and xenophobic Know-Nothings, a stew of intensifying forces that will lead to Civil War. The novel’s historical accuracy enhances it, and intertwined stories of two doctors, father and son, shine a light on a fascinating era.

By Noah Gordon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Shaman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Robert Jeremy Cole, the legendary doctor and hero of THE PHYSICIAN, left an enduring legacy. From the eleventh century on, the eldest son in each generation of the Cole family has borne the same first name and middle initial and many of these men have followed the medical profession. A few have been blessed with their ancestor's diagnostic skill and the 'sixth sense' they call The Gift, the ability to know instinctively when death is impending.
The tragedy of Rob J.'s life is the deafness of his son, Robert Jefferson Cole, who is called Shaman by everyone who knows him.…

Book cover of Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando de Soto to Hurricane Katrina

Cynthia Kierner Author Of Inventing Disaster: The Culture of Calamity from the Jamestown Colony to the Johnstown Flood

From my list on American disasters.

Who am I?

I am a historian of early America and I teach at George Mason University. What got me interested in disaster history was Superstorm Sandy, which ravaged the Jersey Shore (and New York City) in 2012. Sandy destroyed places I cared about—my childhood rollercoaster plunged into the ocean! As I watched the news obsessively, I saw a pattern that was familiar to me from Katrina and from other recent disasters. Quantitative information—how many lives and dollars lost—and insights from hurricane science came first, followed by human-interest stories, uplifting news of relief and resilience, and (eventually) post-disaster investigations and recriminations. I wanted to understand the roots of this pattern—this "culture of calamity." When did it originate? Where did it come from?

Cynthia's book list on American disasters

Cynthia Kierner Why did Cynthia love this book?

Christopher Morris's chronological scope is break-taking, and not all five hundred years of his story deal directly with the hurricanes and other disasters that have routinely afflicted the Lower Mississippi River region. The Big Muddy describes the interplay between humans and the environment, and especially human efforts to engineer the boundaries between wetlands and dry agricultural acreage (first for rice, and later for cotton). After more than a century of hubris-laden and profit-driven tinkering, the Katrina disaster was more or less inevitable—and very much in keeping with the region's tradition of inequitably sharing both the short-term benefits and long-term costs of environmental disruption.

By Christopher Morris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Big Muddy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In The Big Muddy, 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, forty thousand square miles of some of the richest, wettest land in North America, deposited there by the big muddy river that ran through it. But since then much has changed, for the river and for the surrounding valley. Indeed,…

Book cover of Africans in Colonial Louisiana: The Development of Afro-Creole Culture in the Eighteenth-Century

Christian Pinnen Author Of Complexion of Empire in Natchez: Race and Slavery in the Mississippi Borderlands

From my list on race and slavery in colonial Mississippi Valley.

Who am I?

I am a historian of race and slavery in the lower Mississippi Valley because the region is a fulcrum of United States history. I was always fascinated by the significance of the Mississippi River for American expansion, society, and culture. Ultimately, this region of the country is so deeply influenced by people of African descent that must be included in all histories, and I wanted to share their stories in a particular place during the colonial period. Telling these stories in places where they have commonly been less well represented is very rewarding and it opens more ways to understand the histories of places like Natchez along the Mississippi River.

Christian's book list on race and slavery in colonial Mississippi Valley

Christian Pinnen Why did Christian love this book?

Gwendolyn Hall’s Africans in Colonial Louisiana is still a foundational text when it comes to studying African people in the colonial lower Mississippi Valley. Her deep knowledge of the archives and skill in bringing the stories of enslaved Africans to live make this a wonderfully informative book. She draws deep connections between the places that Africans left and their forced new homes in Louisiana, while placing a special emphasis on how that culture turned into an African creole culture in the lower Mississippi Valley.

By Gwendolyn Midlo Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Africans in Colonial Louisiana as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Although a number of important studies of American slavery have explored the formation of slave cultures in the English colonies, few books have undertaken a comprehensive assessment of the development of the distinctive African-Creole culture of colonial Louisiana. This culture, based upon a separate language community with its own folklore, musical, religious and historical traditions, was created by slaves brought directly from Africa to Louisiana before 1731. It still survives as the acknowledged cultural heritage of tens of thousands of people of all races in the southern part of the state. In this work, Gwendolyn Hall studies Louisiana's Creole slave…

Book cover of The Great Plains

Jim Rasenberger Author Of Revolver: Sam Colt and the Six-Shooter That Changed America

From my list on western migration before the Civil War.

Who am I?

Jim Rasenberger is a writer and author of four books - Revolver, The Brilliant Disaster; America, 1908, and High SteelHe has contributed to the New York Times, Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, and other publications. A native of Washington, DC, he lives in New York City.

Jim's book list on western migration before the Civil War

Jim Rasenberger Why did Jim love this book?

Originally published in 1932, this remains one of the most accessible and thought-provoking books ever written about the American West. Webb’s work rises to the level of literature, especially when describing early encounters by white Americans with the landscape and native people they met west of the 98th meridian. Few writers have captured so vividly the expansion of America from the humid and forested east to the arid west of the Great Plains. Some of Webb’s conclusions may feel a little dated, but this remains a very compelling and rewarding book.

By Walter Prescott Webb,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Great Plains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This classic description of the interaction between the vast central plains of America and the people who lived there has, since its first publication in 1931, been one of the most influential, widely known, and controversial works in western history. Arguing that "the Great Plains environment. . .constitutes a geographic unity whose influences have been so powerful as to put a characteristic mark upon everything that survives within its borders," Webb singles out the revolver, barbed wire, and the windmill as evidence of the new phase of civilization required for settlement of that arid, treeless region. Webb draws on history,…

Book cover of The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735

Jim Metzner Author Of Sacred Mounds

From my list on ancient mounds.

Who am I?

To me, it seemed the ancient mounds were fertile ground for literary exploration, a living metaphor – evidence of what was likely the first places of spiritual practice in our country, ancient, unknown, and buried, what a symbol to form the basis of a novel! When I began my research, I soon came into contact with the Natchez. I attended their annual gathering and eventually became close friends with the Principal Chief of the Natchez Nation, who vetted Sacred Mounds and wrote its foreword. The book includes historical figures like the Great Sun, descended from the Sun Itself, and his war chief, the Tattooed Serpent. They are part of the tapestry of history woven in Sacred Mounds.

Jim's book list on ancient mounds

Jim Metzner Why did Jim love this book?

The Natchez were the last tribe observed inhabiting and interacting with the ancient mounds. Their culture was remarkable in many ways, such as the tribal imperative for those in the top echelon to marry members of the lowest caste. Barnett's book is the best book available on this remarkable First Nation group.

By James F. Barnett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Natchez Indians as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Natchez Indians: A History to 1735 is the story of the Natchez Indians as revealed through accounts of Spanish, English, and French explorers, missionaries, soldiers, and colonists, and in the archaeological record. Because of their strategic location on the Mississippi River, the Natchez Indians played a crucial part in the European struggle for control of the Lower Mississippi Valley. The book begins with the brief confrontation between the Hernando de Soto expedition and the powerful Quigualtam chiefdom, presumed ancestors of the Natchez. In the late seventeenth century, Rene-Robert Cavelier de La Salle's expedition met the Natchez and initiated sustained…

Book cover of Life on the Mississippi

Peter B. Dedek Author Of The Cemeteries of New Orleans: A Cultural History

From my list on the history of life, death, and magic in New Orleans.

Who am I?

Being from Upstate New York I went to college at Cornell University but headed off to New Orleans as soon as I could. By and by I became an instructor at Delgado Community College. Always a big fan of the city’s amazing historic cemeteries, when teaching a world architectural history class, I took the class to the Metairie Cemetery where I could show the students real examples of every style from Ancient Egyptian to Modern American. After coming to Texas State University, San Marcos (30 miles from Austin), I went back to New Orleans on sabbatical in 2013 and wrote The Cemeteries of New Orleans. 

Peter's book list on the history of life, death, and magic in New Orleans

Peter B. Dedek Why did Peter love this book?

Life on the Mississippi is the autobiographical story of Mark Twain’s career as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River in the mid-1800s.

I first read this book when living in the French Quarter in the 1990s and could hear ship horns out on the river as I took in Twain’s fascinating, often silly and sarcastic narrative about his life and the river.

When describing New Orleans cemeteries, Twain writes, “Many of the cemeteries are beautiful, and are kept in perfect order. When one goes from the levee or the business streets near it, to a cemetery, he observes to himself that if those people down there would live as neatly while they are alive as they do after they are dead, they would find many advantages in it.

By Mark Twain,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Life on the Mississippi as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Life on the Mississippi (1883) is a memoir by Mark Twain of his days as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River before the American Civil War. It is also a travel book, recounting his trip up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Saint Paul many years after the war.

Book cover of France and England in North America

Jason Born Author Of Quaker's War

From my list on the war that made America.

Who am I?

Jason has written over twenty historical novels on topics ranging from the Roman Empire to the Islamic invasion of Spain and to the spread of the Viking Age into North America. His latest series, The Long Fuse, follows a young man as he navigates the deadly conflicts of the French & Indian War and the Revolutionary War in Eighteenth-Century America.

Jason's book list on the war that made America

Jason Born Why did Jason love this book?

When the deities dedicated to the history of the French and Indian War got together to recommend their own list of the best books on the war that made America, they made Francis Parkman’s multi-volume work required reading. And the good news is that even if they had not, it is worth diving into headfirst.

The French and Indian War is often overshadowed by the American and then French Revolutions that followed on its heels. Yet, neither of them would have ever happened without the completely lopsided British victory in the first. Parkman, writing in the Nineteenth Century, was among the first scholars to shed light on the immense impact wrought by the fight for control over North America in the 1750s. His work is massive as it digs into the very origins of both countries’ humble beginnings and rapid growth in the New World. But fear not! If his…

By Francis Parkman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked France and England in North America as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This Library of America volume, along with its companion, presents, for the first time in compact form, all seven titles of Francis Parkman’s monumental account of France and England’s imperial struggle for dominance on the North American continent. Deservedly compared as a literary achievement to Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Parkman’s accomplishment is hardly less awesome than the explorations and adventures he so vividly describes.

Pioneers of France in the New World (1865) begins with the early and tragic settlement of the French Huguenots in Florida, then shifts to the northern reaches of the continent and…

Book cover of The USS Carondelet: A Civil War Ironclad on Western Waters

Dwight Sturtevant Hughes Author Of Unlike Anything That Ever Floated: The Monitor and Virginia and the Battle of Hampton Roads, March 8-9, 1862

From my list on the naval history of the American Civil War.

Who am I?

I’m a lover of the sea, ships, seamen, and their histories, particularly of navies in the Civil War. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy (1967) with a history major, I served twenty years as a surface warfare officer (ship driver) on most oceans in ships ranging from destroyer to aircraft carrier and with river forces in Vietnam. I earned an M.A. in Political Science and an M.S. in Information Systems Management. Now as a historian, author, and speaker, I’m committed to communicating our naval heritage in an educational and entertaining manner for old hands and new generations. Writing about ships is the next best thing to driving them.

Dwight's book list on the naval history of the American Civil War

Dwight Sturtevant Hughes Why did Dwight love this book?

“The cruise of a ship is a biography,” wrote Raphael Semmes about his ocean-straddling tall ship, CSS Alabama. “The ship becomes a personification. She not only, ‘walks the waters like a thing of life,’ but she speaks in moving accents to those capable of interpreting her.” In this excellent biography of Carondelet’s career, a squat, ugly, ironclad gunboat also becomes a major character along with the men who designed and built the revolutionary vessel, stoked her engines, and fired her big guns. In tactics and technology, riverine warfare was invented from scratch and indispensable to victory. This work (and Smith’s entire series on brown water war vessels) provides fresh and enlightening perspectives on every major battle down the Mississippi from Forts Henry and Donelson through Vicksburg to Red River.

By Myron J. Smith Jr.,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The USS Carondelet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The USS Carondelet had a revolutionary ship design and was the most active of all the Union's Civil War river ironclads. From Fort Henry through the siege of Vicksburg and from the Red River campaign through the Battle of Nashville, the gunboat was prominent in war legend and literature. This history draws on the letters of Ensign Scott Dyer Jordan and Rear Adm. It falls in the category of Henry Walke's memoirs.