Boyce Upholt presents The Great River: The Making & Unmaking of the Mississippi

A sweeping history of the Mississippi River—and the centuries of human meddling that have transformed both it and America.


Join us in welcoming award-winning journalist and author Boyce Upholt for his new book The Great River: The Making and Unmaking of the MississippiMonday, July 1st at 5:30PM at Off Square Books.

Reserve a signed copy here. Personalization available. Can't make it? Tune in virtually via Facebook Live.

About the Book


Over thousands of years, the Mississippi watershed was home to millions of Indigenous people who regarded “the great river” with awe and respect, adorning its banks with astonishing spiritual earthworks. But European settlers and American pioneers had a different vision: the river was a foe to conquer. In this landmark work of natural history, Boyce Upholt tells the epic story of human attempts to own and contain the Mississippi River, from Thomas Jefferson’s expansionist land hunger through today’s era of environmental concern. He reveals how an ambitious and sometimes contentious program of engineering—government-built levees, jetties, dikes, and dams—has not only damaged once-vibrant ecosystems, but may not work much longer, and explores how scientists are scrambling to restore what’s been lost. Rich and powerful, The Great River delivers a startling account of what happens when we try to fight against nature instead of acknowledging and embracing its power.

About the Author

Boyce Upholt is an award-winning journalist whose writing has appeared in the Atlantic, National Geographic, Outside, the New Republic, and Time, among other publications. He lives in New Orleans.

Praise for The Great River: The Making and Unmaking of the Mississippi

The Great River is easily one of the best books ever written about the Mississippi. It brings depth of scholarship to everything from geology to history to current politics, all of it elegantly written.

— John M. Barry, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America

With tributaries of history, geography, engineering, and environmental science, Boyce Upholt’s The Great River brings clarity and cohesion to a topic that intermixes complex stories across, quite literally, a million square miles. Using elements of travelogue and including fine maps, this compelling book takes readers through the making and unmaking of the Mississippi River, and leaves them with a hunch that, in the end, the river will remake itself.

— Richard Campanella, Associate Dean for Research, Tulane University School of Architecture and author of Draining New Orleans

From mound-builders to levee-makers, Boyce Upholt gives us a Mississippi both wild and engineered, life-giving and furious—a river as full of contradictions as the country that has tried and failed to tame it. Impossible to stop reading, The Great River is a deeply felt meditation on the ways people have lived with nature's changes, and how we might live differently in the future.

— Bathsheba Demuth, author of Floating Coast

Rivers are the lifeblood of an ecosystem and the Mississippi is North America’s jugular. With masterful research and reporting, Boyce Upholt makes a compelling case that, despite our centuries-long efforts to control its unpredictable pulses with concrete, steel and earthen berms, the river in many ways remains wild as ever. And he shows us why that is good.
— Dan Egan, author of The Death and Life of the Great Lakes

Few books have ever chronicled a landform as beautifully as The Great River, a thorough and wise meditation on the United States’s mightiest watershed. Like a savvy riverboat captain, Boyce Upholt expertly pilots his narrative across shoals of history and through oxbows of science; like the Mississippi itself, his book braids and bends, carrying its readers from deep time to the Anthropocene on a swift current of reportage. What emerges is a river neither wholly natural nor entirely conquered by engineers—a basin at once enchanting in its own right, and a fitting exemplar of all we've done to nature.

— Ben Goldfarb, author of Crossings

Paddling through archives and down tributaries, wading knee-deep through estuarial mud and environmental controversy, Boyce Upholt, like the Mississippi itself, has written an epic alluvial chronicle. On his travels through the geological, hydrological, archeological, and historical records, he unearths the stories and meanings, injustices and mysteries and fugitive beauties, to be found among the ghost forests and relict meanders and chemical refineries of the flood plains. As the best environmental journalism does, by bringing the past to bear upon the present, The Great River complicates our understanding of both. The Mississippi, Twain wrote, was 'not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story tell every day.' Upholt has updated the ancient and ongoing story for our own turbulent times.

— Donovan Hohn, author of Moby-Duck

The Great River: The Making and Unmaking of the Mississippi By Boyce Upholt Cover Image
ISBN: 9780393867879
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: W. W. Norton & Company - June 11th, 2024

A sweeping history of the Mississippi River—and the centuries of human meddling that have transformed both it and America.

Event date: 
Monday, July 1, 2024 - 5:30pm
Off Square Books
129 Courthouse Square
Oxford, MS 38655
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