John M. Barry's book Rising Tide: The great Mississippi Flood and how it changed America (see: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/de ... 3?v=glance ) looks like fascinating reading, and even more so now after Katrina. Here's what one Amazon reviewer wrote in 2000:
"No one remembers the 1927 flood, or even that it happened; but it was the events surrounding that single event which more than anything else gave us modern America, and John Barry's book is essential to understanding it.
Obviously the book gives a full account of the flood itself, of the history of the river and of the delta, of the people who carved a nation out of wilderness and who lived and died in the catastrophe; without a doubt, Barry does all this, and does it in gripping style: the book is hard to put down.
But Barry does far more. In telling the story, he shows how a heretofore anti-socialist America was forced by unprecedented circumstance to embrace an enormous, Washington-based big-government solution to the greatest natural catastrophe in our history, preparing the way (psychologically and otherwise) for the New Deal. He shows how this was accomplished through the Republican (but left-wing) Herbert Hoover, who would never have become President without the flood. Most importantly, he shows how Hoover's foolish, all-encompassing arrogance single-handedly drove the backbone of the Republican Party -- African Americans -- away from the GOP and into the arms of the segregationist, generally pro-KKK Democrats (a truly amazing feat). It is an amazing tale indeed.
It holds important lessons for the future as well. Hoover's loss of the black community is a lesson virtually unknown to modern readers (who generally assume they just drifted away under the New Deal), and holds important (and perhaps urgent) lessons for modern Democrats and Republicans alike.
But on a more fundamental level, the book teaches us the power of the river, a lesson we've forgotten even in the face of some reasonably large modern floods. Someday, possibly very soon, the levy system will likely be destroyed by the long-predicted earthquake along the New Madrid Fault: when that day comes, the lessons of Rising Tide will be life and death matters. Southerners in particular may ignore Rising Tide only at their peril."
See also the webpages for Fatal Flood, a PBS documentary http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/flood/filmmore/index.html