This book explains many issues that I never understood from my basic "public-school-history-class-taught-by-a-coach" years. When did blacks defect from the Republican party, the party of Lincoln, and flock to the Democrat party? Why did they do that? When did the federal government first step in to organize help after a disaster where before local communities were on their own?I have read John Barry's other book on "The Great Influenza", and found it to be an absolutely excellent book. This book is only slightly less gripping, but that is because the influenza book had doctors in it, and I've always been partial to medicine and physicians. This book has engineers, my second favorite group of people, so it stands a close second now.Measured from the head of the Missouri RIver, the Mississippi river is the longest river in the world. It stretches from Canada in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, then from New York and North Carolina in the east to Idaho and New Mexico in the west. The Mississippi River valley is 20% larger than China's Yellow River, twice as big as the Nile river in Egypt and twice as big as the Ganges in India; 15 times larger than the Rhine in Europe. Only the Amazon river (barely) and the Congo have larger drainage basins than the Mississippi River.Controlling the river so that it serves the purpose of man has been a huge engineering project since the mid-1800's. How to control it.... with levees? with cut-throughs? with reservoirs? A combination? The first part of the book deals with two engineers who would decide the control and method of management of the river. James Buchanan Eads was one of the most brilliant engineers of all time, ranked by the deans of American engineering colleges with da Vinci and Edison. Andrew Atkinson Humphreys was the other Union soldier / engineer from the Army Corps of Engineers. A bitter rivalry between these two men eventually caused the formation of a committee to determine which method proposed by the two men would determine how the Mississippi River would be managed. True to form, the committee selected the worst components of each man's recommendation, and selected a solution that neither man would ever have wanted, a "levees only" solution.Levees restrict the river to flow between them. Cut offs are a way of straightening the river by cutting through the S bend's created naturally. Reservoirs were a way to capture runoff flood waters and direct them into man-made lakes. The levees only policy set up the river to amass the largest level of flooding ever recorded in the 1927 flood. New Orleans, the origins and politics, are explained in fairly great detail in this book. It was settled not by immigrants, but by blue-blooded families of importance who came to the area because of the amazing availability to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Immigrants and former slaves made up a huge portion of the people in the area, but the city itself was ruled and ruled very efficiently by an elite cadre of families. Because of James Eads who established man-made jetties that kept the mouth of the Mississippi River clear of sandbars, New Orleans became a stable port and very prosperous city. So when the 1927 flood threatened New Orleans, a deal was struck by the elite New Orleans rulers to dynamite the levees of downriver St. Bernard parish and Plaquemines Parish. These two parishes were much poorer than New Orleans and the "deal" struck was that the city of New Orleans and the city elite would pay back damages to the people impacted. The levees there were dynamited, the surrounding areas were flooded, but reparations to the affected people became a legal nightmare. City officials backed away from their promises, the city elite also backed away from their promises. People in the area eventually fought back with their votes, and the unrest in the area brought in a new political group, one led by Huey Long instead of the elite families. In answer to the questions I raised above, here are the answers I found.Blacks defected from the Republican Party after Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928. Hoover had worked as the Secretary of Commerce during the 1927 flood and during the aftermath. His efficient organization of aid to the area would keep his name in newspapers and before the public in such a way that he received the Republican nomination for the 1928 election. Hoover had worked with Robert Russa Moton, head of the Tuskegee Institute after Booker T. Washington died, to provide accountability for the relief effort among blacks. Moton was led to believe by Hoover that he (Hoover) would provide a means for blacks to sharecrop in the areas controlled by the New Orleans elite families. Hoover deceived Moton, and as a result lost the votes of those blacks affected adversely by the 1927 flood. Blacks left the south in huge numbers, and many from the Mississippi / Louisiana / New Orleans area moved to Chicago.Herbert Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce organizing relief efforts for the 1927 flood, was the first to request that the Federal Government step in to organize things that were too big for the local states and communities. The 1927 flood simply overwhelmed southern states in scope of devastation and need to get an influx of cash to rebuild. Calvin Coolidge, who was president at the time, resisted strongly in committing the Federal Government to such activities. But eventually pressure from the local communities, the states affected, and those political machines who sought to re-establish governance of those areas along different lines, prevailed. And thus, the 1927 Mississippi River flood became THE FIRST disaster where the federal government stepped in to organize and provide disaster relief. In the past, natural disasters were dealt with by those communities and states that were affected. But after 1927, that precedent was changed, amazingly enough against the wishes of the President of the United States and most of Congress!An interesting aside..... the head of the New Orleans Weather Bureau was Isaac Cline. Those of you who have read "Isaac's Story" about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, will remember his name. He was head of the Galveston Weather Bureau when the hurricane practically destroyed Galveston. Cline's wife and unborn child died in the Galveston Hurricane. He was able to rescue his 3 daughters. As a sort of "demotion" in the Weather Bureau, he was sent to New Orleans, where he served well although without enthusiasm for the area. To the credit of Cline, he fairly and accurately reported river surges and provided warnings to those along the Mississippi River during the 1927 flood. I am reading "Isaac's Storm" also right now, and was amazed that he also played a part in this event!