• Life on the Mississippi

  • An Epic American Adventure
  • By: Rinker Buck
  • Narrated by: Jason Culp
  • Length: 15 hrs and 21 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (52 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER * “Audacious…Life on the Mississippi sparkles.” —The Wall Street Journal * “A rich mix of history, reporting, and personal introspection.” —St. Louis Post-Dispatch * “Both a travelogue and an engaging history lesson about America’s westward expansion.” —The Christian Science Monitor

The eagerly awaited return of master American storyteller Rinker Buck, Life on the Mississippi is an epic, enchanting blend of history and adventure in which Buck builds a wooden flatboat from the grand “flatboat era” of the 1800s and sails it down the Mississippi River, illuminating the forgotten past of America’s first western frontier.

Seven years ago, listeners around the country fell in love with a singular American voice: Rinker Buck, whose infectious curiosity about history launched him across the West in a covered wagon pulled by mules and propelled his book about the trip, The Oregon Trail, to ten weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Now, Buck returns to chronicle his latest incredible adventure: building a wooden flatboat from the bygone era of the early 1800s and journeying down the Mississippi River to New Orleans.

A modern-day Huck Finn, Buck casts off down the river on the flatboat Patience accompanied by an eccentric crew of daring shipmates. Over the course of his voyage, Buck steers his fragile wooden craft through narrow channels dominated by massive cargo barges, rescues his first mate gone overboard, sails blindly through fog, breaks his ribs not once but twice, and camps every night on sandbars, remote islands, and steep levees. As he charts his own journey, he also delivers a richly satisfying work of history that brings to life a lost era.

The role of the flatboat in our country’s evolution is far more significant than most Americans realize. Between 1800 and 1840, millions of farmers, merchants, and teenage adventurers embarked from states like Pennsylvania and Virginia on flatboats headed beyond the Appalachians to Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Settler families repurposed the wood from their boats to build their first cabins in the wilderness; cargo boats were broken apart and sold to build the boomtowns along the water route. Joining the river traffic were floating brothels, called “gun boats”; “smithy boats” for blacksmiths; even “whiskey boats” for alcohol. In the present day, America’s inland rivers are a superhighway dominated by leviathan barges—carrying $80 billion of cargo annually—all descended from flatboats like the ramshackle Patience.

As a historian, Buck resurrects the era’s adventurous spirit, but he also challenges familiar myths about American expansion, confronting the bloody truth behind settlers’ push for land and wealth. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced more than 125,000 members of the Cherokee, Choctaw, and several other tribes to travel the Mississippi on a brutal journey en route to the barrens of Oklahoma. Simultaneously, almost a million enslaved African Americans were carried in flatboats and marched by foot 1,000 miles over the Appalachians to the cotton and cane fields of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, birthing the term “sold down the river.” Buck portrays this watershed era of American expansion as it was really lived.

With a rare narrative power that blends stirring adventure with absorbing untold history, Life on the Mississippi is a mus­cular and majestic feat of storytelling from a writer who may be the closest that we have today to Mark Twain.

©2022 Rinker Buck. All rights reserved. (P)2022 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History

What listeners say about Life on the Mississippi

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Too Political and Divisive

When I listen or read a book about history I am not looking for the author’s skewed insight in to modern politics. Rinker comes across as a snobbish northerner looking down his nose at anyone who is not a blue blood from New England. His self loathing over being white and over our country is spiced up with his elitist mentality towards his fellow man. As a person of color from the west that has transplanted to the south I do not believe his experiences with “racists”. I think he put those stories in to attract his type of people. He needs to understand that people don’t blatantly speak about such things even if they are real racists. Time have changed, but stories like this keep a bad narrative alive.

1 person found this helpful

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I want a flatboat!

Not my usual read, but I enjoyed very much! It was so educational and an eye opener to so many parts of our rivers I didn’t realize. I live on the Missouri River in Kansas City and am always so sad we don’t have any part in our river! I learned some reasons why, but I’d love to have a day trip on the Muddy Mo just to see it from that perspective Vs driving over it as usual! Thank you so much and congratulations on an enviable journey! Liesl

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5 stars

Enjoyed traveling the Mississippi with Rinker and learned lots of history on the trip. I looked forward to each new adventure with his detailed descriptions . I felt like I was right with him all the way. Fun and informative.

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Irritating and irritable

Disappointed in his crabby attitude and long winded history recaps. Hard to explain. Boring and tedious.

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Wonderfully blended history, personal challenges, philosophy and more.

Most enjoyable read. The author beautifully combined history lessons with his trip. His insights are also priceless.

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