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Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom

One of the great images of the Antebellum South is that of the majestic steamboat. Its presence on the waterways evokes a sense of nostalgia and desire for the peace of the past. But what do we really know about these massive boats? Where they what we thought they were? Robert Gudmestad gives you a whole new perspective of the steamboat in his book, Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom.

I have to admit that I did not know much about steamboats. I knew that they played a major part in the development of the South and the Southwest. I knew that the ability to get from point A to point B improved with the advancement of the steamboat. What I discovered upon reading Mr. Gudmestadís book is that I knew very little about them.

The book goes into the history of the steamboat development from keelboat to the opulent palaces that history writes about. During the steamboatís history, there is a much seedier side that Mr. Gudmestad addresses. They were dirty and crowded. They were dangerous and more focused on speed than safety. The author describes many of the fatal accidents and how the country was mortified yet enthralled by the gory descriptions printed in the newspapers.

Steamboats played a major part in the Indian Removal program, changing the ecological system, greatly impacted the economy of America, and changed how the different parts of the country interacted. It was through the steamboat that cotton became so important and grew to such a large degree in the South and Southwest. Even slaves found a form of freedom by having their masters hire them out to work on steamboats.

This is not a book that is written above the average personís head yet is not written in a style that takes away from the academic and historical topic. It is wonderfully written with quotes from many eyewitnesses including Mark Twain. It shows the romantic side of the steamboats and the deadly side as well.

Located in the main section of the books are tables and maps to help the reader fully understand the impact of the steamboats. In the back of the book are detailed appendixes with many of the statistical data behind the authorís writings as well as a very nice bibliography.

If you think you know all about steamboats, guess again. This book is not just about its history and not just how it impacted cotton. It takes you through the heart and soul of the steamboat, those that made a living with them, those that perished in them, and those that reaped major profits from their ability to challenge nature like it had never been challenged before.

Steamboats and the Rise of the Cotton Kingdom is a great book for you to read, and one that will have you wanting to know more.

Note: This book was provided by the publisher on my request.

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