Love That Dirty Water

Pirates, icebergs, floating cities of sin… The Mississippi River was a wild, wild place. Learn the truth when Lee Sandlin visits M&Q–7:30pm, Monday, October 25.

“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

“What a wickedly wild ride of a read! I loved this book!”–William Kent Krueger, author of Heaven’s Keep

Wicked River is a riveting look at one of the most colorful, dangerous, and peculiar places in America’s historical landscape: the strange, wonderful, and mysterious Mississippi River of the nineteenth century. Beginning in the early 1800s and climaxing with the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, Wicked River takes us back to a time before the Mississippi was dredged into a shipping channel, and before Mark Twain romanticized it into myth.

Drawing on an array of suspenseful and bizarre firsthand accounts, Lee Sandlin brings to life a place where river pirates brushed elbows with future presidents and religious visionaries shared passage with thieves–a world unto itself where, every night, near the levees of the big river towns, hundreds of boats gathered to form dusk-to-dawn cities dedicated to music, drinking, and gambling. Here is a minute-by-minute account of Natchez being flattened by a tornado; the St. Louis harbor being crushed by a massive ice floe; hidden, nefarious celebrations of Mardi Gras; and the sinking of the Sultana, the worst naval disaster in American history. And here is the Mississippi itself: gorgeous, perilous, and unpredictable, lifeblood to the communities that rose and fell along its banks.

“Great stuff, essential stuff, and yeah, wicked.”–Roy Blount Jr, author of Alphabet Juice and Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South

“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.”–Frederick Barthelme, author of Waveland

Lee Sandlin’s essays, most of which were published in the Chicago Reader, have received the Peter Lisagor Award for Exemplary Journalism and an award for Best Arts Criticism from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. His essay “Losing the War” was included in the anthology The New Kings of Nonfiction. He lives in Chicago. For more information, visit

Details are here.–David E