Conevery Bolton Valencius, "The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes" (U Chicago Press, 2013)


The story begins with Davy Crockett and his hunting dogs chasing a bear in 1826. The bear gets caught in an earthquake crack, an effect of the great Mississippi Valley earthquakes of 1811-1812 that are now collectively known as the New Madrid earthquakes. In The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes (University of Chicago Press, 2013), Conevery Bolton Valencius beautifully narrates a riveting tale of the production and forgetting of knowledge surrounding these earthquakes, massively disruptive events that liquefied the soil in much of the Mississippi floodplain and briefly made the Mississippi River flow backward. Valencius situates these events in the New Madrid seismic zone within their past, present, and possible futures. We are treated to the perspectives of those who experienced the quakes and their transformation of New Madrid into a hinterland, from river travelers and writers to the "Shawnee Prophets" Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa. Because of the wide range of historical actors treated in the book, the account is of relevance not only to the histories of early American science and environmental studies, but also to the histories of religious practice and native American politics and culture. Undoubtedly a rich and fascinating story, The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes is also a special pleasure to read, thanks to the warm (and often very funny) asides and anecdotes with which Valencius peppers the book. Enjoy!

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