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The River We Have Wrought

A History of the Upper Mississippi

2005
Author:

John O. Anfinson

The River We Have Wrought

The sweeping history of how the upper Mississippi has been changed by human intervention

The River We Have Wrought is a landmark history of the upper Mississippi from early European exploration through the completion of a navigable channel and a system of locks and dams. John Anfinson examines how politics has shaped the landscapes of the Upper Midwest and how taming the Mississippi has affected economic sustainability, river ecology, and biological diversity.

John Anfinson does a wonderful job of telling the story of navigation improvements on the upper river and the impact that those improvements had on reshaping the river in the image of the people who effected and supported them.

Philip Scarpino, author of Great River

The River We Have Wrought is a landmark history of the upper Mississippi, from early European exploration through the completion of a navigable channel and a system of locks and dams in the mid-twentieth century.

One of the world’s largest and most powerful rivers, the Mississippi became the waterway we know today after massive engineering efforts. Previously, it was often shallow and full of sandbars, snags, and mile-long rapids. Shipping goods and people from St. Louis to St. Paul was arduous and expensive on the natural river, so the farmers and merchants of the region demanded that the federal government transform the upper Mississippi. As a result, in 1930 Congress authorized a system of locks and dams that has revolutionized shipping and, by extension, life in the Midwest.

Anfinson explores the origins of navigation improvements and traces the physical design of the river to the grain empire’s feud with railroads and to the politics of port cities. He also reveals how the conservation movement rose to challenge navigation’s supremacy, questioning the impact of the locks and dams on the ecology of the river.

At a time when the role of such public works and their impact on the environment is being intensely debated, The River We Have Wrought is an essential examination of how politics has shaped the landscapes of the Upper Midwest and how taming the river has affected economic sustainability, river ecology, and biological diversity.

The River We Have Wrought

John O. Anfinson is a historian with the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area. For nearly twenty years he was the historian for the Saint Paul District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He is a founding board member of the Friends of the Mississippi River, an organization dedicated to improving the Mississippi’s environmental health in the Twin Cities.

The River We Have Wrought

John Anfinson does a wonderful job of telling the story of navigation improvements on the upper river and the impact that those improvements had on reshaping the river in the image of the people who effected and supported them.

Philip Scarpino, author of Great River

A comprehensive new history of the upper Mississippi. Anfinson brings an evenhanded approach to the debate over how much river should serve commerce and how much it should preserve nature, a topic that has been politicized by shipping and environmental advocates.

Steve Brandt, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Anfinson’s history, which reaches back to the river’s European explorers and has as many plot lines as the river has side channels, is enormously informative and quite readable. Anyone interested in the fate of the Mississippi River would do well to read this book.

Minnesota Magazine

This book demonstrates wide research and thoughtful synthesis of many sources. The River We Have Wrought deserves a wide audience. It is certainly an important book.

Minnesota History

Anfinson succeeds in showing the importance of navigation in shaping the Mississippi. He draws from a variety of sources. Well-versed in the fields that overlap with history to create environmental history, Anfinson demonstrates an impressive command of river dynamics, ecosystems, transportation systems, and public policy.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History

The River We Have Wrought provides the first comprehensive history of perhaps the least understood portion of the Mississippi River. Anfinson tells this story with admirable equanimity. A substantial contribution.

The Public Historian

Anfinson adeptly weaves together multiple strands of human interaction with the river. He offers an informed discussion. This is a very satisfying contribution.

Indiana Magazine of History

John Anfinson’s new book offers a compelling analysis of the technological and environmental history of the upper Mississippi River and fills a gap in the historiography of rivers in the United States.

Technology and Culture

Anfinson does a wonderful job of evoking the ‘natural’ river. Anfinson’s stance as a public historian contributes to what is perhaps the book’s most enduring contribution. He speaks directly and self-consciously to current public policy issues, hoping to shed historical light on how we got to where we are in managing the Great River. Anfinson’s rich work provides such perspective on future management of the upper Mississippi River.

Annals of Iowa