Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 And How It Changed America by John M. Barry

The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry

rising tide book cover  great influenza book cover

Recommended by Doug Braudaway


John M. Barry is one of the best historians around. I’ve read these two of his books, and I will be purchasing his new one, sight unseen, on the strength of Rising Tide and Great Influenza.

Rising Tide is about a flood that put several states underwater, financially underwater certainly, but also literally under water. Del Rio suffered its big flood in 1998, but the deaths and damage were mostly confined to the neighborhoods along San Felipe Creek and the flood drainage zone near Buena Vista Park. And the flood waters were gone by daybreak.

Instead of that, imagine all of Del Rio and Val Verde County underwater. Underwater for weeks. With people living on their rooftops or nearby hilltops. Imagine every house in town flooded, and every house in Brackettville flooded, and every house in Uvalde flooded. Imagine so much floodwater that we could drive a boat from Del Rio to San Antonio. That was the Great Mississippi Flood.

The “Deadliest Plague in History” is a bold statement, particularly for an event that most people don’t remember ever happening. However, the adding of numbers of deaths (in countries where numbers were kept) to the estimated numbers of deaths (in countries and colonies where numbers weren’t kept) leads to a range of numbers, all of which are extraordinary. Basically, more than 5% of the global population died. And they died in a very short amount of time—less than two years.

That is a story worth telling, and Barry tells it well. And I found some bonus history in The Great Influenza—the history of Del Rio’s Dr. Brinkley. John R. Brinkley is not named in the book, but the early chapters recount the medical profession’s history in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There were hundreds of people like Dr. Brinkley in the years before the First World War. However, some of the doctors, call them the American Medical Association, developed a plan to make the profession more professional. To make medicine more medical. This effort to people like Dr. Brinkley out of business was underway when the great influenza hit the United States. As I said, he is not in this book by name, but I can see that Brinkley was probably the last and the greatest of the old 1800s-style medicine men, fighting the rising tide of modern science to the end.

In both books the reader will find fantastically detailed stories well told and well worth the read.