Acclaimed historians Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, accompanied by award-winning National Geographic photographer Sam Abell, explore the entire length of the Mississippi — from its mouth at Delacroix Island, Louisiana, to its source at Lake Itasca, Minnesota, as it flows past ten states and casts a potent spell over an entire nation. Just two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson bought for our young nation a vast territory with a mighty river — and created the America we know. Here, celebrating the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase — surely the best real estate deal in history — is a visually stunning, consistently engrossing chronicle of the waterway that has shaped the history of North America. Featuring hundreds of illustrations from Abell’s evocative photo essays to period artwork, artifacts, and maps, this is a history every bit as vivid as the colorful, powerful tale it tells.

On a map, the Mississippi River cuts America nearly in half, coursing from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico and separating East from West. But the Mississippi is in fact the “spine of our nation,” says Stephen Ambrose. It knits the nation together and connects the heartland to the world. It is our great natural wonder, a priceless treasure bought for a fledgling America by the visionary Thomas Jefferson just 200 years ago.

Celebrating the Bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase, distinguished historians Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, with acclaimed National Geographic photographer Sam Ambell, explore the length of the Mississippi —from its mouth at Delacroix Island, Louisiana, to its source at Lake Itasca Minnesota. The result is this lavish, entertaining, engrossing chronicle of the “father of waters,” which has shaped the history, the culture, and the very landscape of America.

Highlighted by Sam Abell’s evocative contemporary photographs and wonderful period illustrations, artwork, documents, and maps, this extraordinary panorama of American’s heartland offers a lively, informative journey through the history of the landscape carved by the mighty Mississippi.


National Geographic


October 1st, 2002

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Praise for The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation:

“Stephen Ambrose and Doug Brinkley have done what many of us dream of doing. They have travelled the length of the Mississippi, the most important river in the world, taking their time, wading into the lives of people along the river, replacing myth with history, and sharing the stories with us. And what stories they are, touching on everything from America’s soul to American industry to American Hubris, from W.C Handy and the birth of the blues in the Delta to St. Louis-born T.S. Eliot’s “strong brown god,” from John Deere and the agricultural revolution he brought to the Midwest to the engineering feats that try to keep the Mississippi in its place.”  — John Barry, Author of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America

“The Mississippi River valley and the enormous region that drains into it form much of the American heartland. The history of this region is the history of much of our country, and its presence is prominent in much of our literature and culture. National Geographic’s last book on this important area was published in 1971, and this update by popular historians Ambrose and Brinkley (who both traveled the river’s 2,353 miles for the project) is a welcome addition to the literature on the region. This title is well illustrated in the tradition of National Geographic publications, and yet the text is informative and substantial enough to make this more than another coffee-table book. This work, which tells the river’s story from the time of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase onward, promises to appeal to a wide range of readers and would be an excellent addition to the collections of most public libraries and many academic libraries as well.”  — Charlie Cowling, Drake Memorial Library

Video Discussion:

C-SPAN Video Discussion with Douglas Brinkley on: The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation