PATSY R. BRUMFIELD: Book on flood amazingly re-appears

Patsy BrumfieldMore than 13 years ago, I read the incredible book, “Rising Tide,” by John M. Barry. Still, I keep running into people who mention it.

The book’s complete title is “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.” It provides a fascinating examination of that massive event, during which my mother was born.

Back in 1998, when the book was first published, I bought it for her because I thought it would make a good birthday present. Boy, was I right: She devoured it, then shared it with so many friends, who’d grown up during that era. Many were Mississippians with personal experiences of The Flood.

After my mother died late in 1999, I felt an affinity with it as a way to feel closer to her. And so, I sat down and read it.

Finally, I understood in some small part why my elders so adored this book. Barry’s writing is utterly transfixing. It’s hard to put into my own words, but suffice it to say that this man is so good, he can mesmerize the reader even with his description of a cubic foot of water moving south toward its delta in south Louisiana.

I was so enraptured by this book that I’ve given copies to all my relatives and others I thought would enjoy it, too. My dear incumbent son-in-law is the latest recipient because it gives him such a rich history of our region, especially because he and my daughter live in New Orleans, which played such a big part in the flood’s story.

Amazingly, I continue to come across people who will make reference to “Rising Tide,” to make a point about Mississippi. Often it’s about the Mississippi Delta and its persistent challenges.

Earlier this week, I was speaking with an architecture professor about a story I’m working on about one of his former students.

We got to talking about architecture and ideas that bubble up in our region for an “architecture tour” much like the well known Blues or Civil Rights Trails and other suggested themes like food or artists or agriculture.

The professor then told me he’s working on the end-all compilation of Mississippi’s architectural history and significant structures as part of a national state-by-state project. Somehow, the conversation took us to the Delta.

Have you read that book about the Great Flood of 1927, he asked me.

I almost fell out of my chair with enthusiasm about the book, saying that while I thought myself relatively well informed about our state and its history, I was blinded by my own lack of understanding about that flood’s significance on people, commerce and culture, especially to explain today’s Delta challenges.

Goodness, we went on and on about the book, both of us apparently taken by Barry’s writing skill and the fascinating history it conveys.

Reading, obviously, is a big part of my life. I’ve even gone digital, which is very convenient, although it certainly doesn’t provide the same tactile experience of holding a book or newspaper.

So, I’ve realized I need to give “Rising Tide” another look. It’s quite a dramatic, episodic kind of story and it’s rich with colorful history – events that really occurred, not just the flamboyant fiction I’ve been reading lately.

I suspect I’ll fall in love with this book all over again and likely come away with a new experience, realizing I probably missed (or more likely forgot) some excellent details since I read it in 1999.

Certainly, I commend it to you, too.

PATSY R. BRUMFIELD writes a Thursday column. Contact her at (662) 678-1596 or

Click video to hear audio