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The Thousand-Year Flood: Book summary and reviews of The Thousand-Year Flood by David Welky

The Thousand-Year Flood

The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937

by David Welky

The Thousand-Year Flood by David Welky X
The Thousand-Year Flood by David Welky
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Book Summary

In the early days of 1937, the Ohio River, swollen by heavy winter rains, began rising. And rising. And rising. By the time the waters crested, the Ohio and Mississippi had climbed to record heights. Nearly four hundred people had died, while a million more had run from their homes. The deluge caused more than half a billion dollars of damage at a time when the Great Depression still battered the nation.

Timed to coincide with the flood's seventy-fifth anniversary, The Thousand-Year Flood is the first comprehensive history of one of the most destructive disasters in American history. David Welky first shows how decades of settlement put Ohio valley farms and towns at risk and how politicians and planners repeatedly ignored the dangers. Then he tells the gripping story of the river's inexorable rise: residents fled to refugee camps and higher ground, towns imposed martial law, prisoners rioted, Red Cross nurses endured terrifying conditions, and FDR dispatched thousands of relief workers. In a landscape fraught with dangers—from unmoored gas tanks that became floating bombs to powerful currents of filthy floodwaters that swept away whole towns - people hastily raised sandbag barricades, piled into overloaded rowboats, and marveled at water that stretched as far as the eye could see. In the flood's aftermath, Welky explains, New Deal reformers, utopian dreamers, and hard-pressed locals restructured not only the flood-stricken valleys, but also the nation's relationship with its waterways, changes that continue to affect life along the rivers to this day.

A striking narrative of danger and adventure - and the mix of heroism and generosity, greed and pettiness that always accompany disaster - The Thousand-Year Flood breathes new life into a fascinating yet little-remembered American story.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Welky's remarkable narrative will be of particular interest to students of the New Deal and 1930s America as well as the general reader." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. An eye-opening account of a national disaster that has been all but forgotten, as well as a shameful spotlight on the short-sightedness of humans in the face of the awesome powers of nature." - Kirkus Reviews

"David Welky has done a prodigious job of reminding us about the horror inflicted by the Ohio-Mississippi flood of 1937. At its heart, The Thousand-Year Flood is a Great Depression story not unlike the Dust Bowl tragedy. His scholarship is impeccable. Highly recommended!" - Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge

"A wonderfully written, engaging narrative about one of America's greatest and often forgotten disasters. David Welky captures the people, places, and mood with apt turns of phrase, telling details, and careful attention to atmospherics." - Matthew Klingle, author of Emerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle

"A well-written and deeply imaginative account of the history of the Ohio valley and the eventful 1937 flood. The book gracefully intercuts a clear narrative of national politics and flood-control policy with engaging and evocative portraits of the Ohio valley's communities and its people - before, during, and after the deluge. It is always interesting, and often riveting." - Sarah Phillips, author of This Land, This Nation: Conservation, Rural America, and the New Deal

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Author Information

David Welky

David Welky is associate professor of history at the University of Central Arkansas and the author of Everything Was Better in America: Print Culture in the Great Depression and The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II.

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