In his youth, Abe Lincoln made two flatboat trips down the Mississippi River (from Indiana and Illinois respectively) to New Orleans.  They were  formative experiences in many ways, Lincoln’s only visit to the Deep South, where he got a glimpse of slave markets in New Orleans — by far the biggest city he’d ever seen up to that time.

You might not think that a book devoted exclusively to those trips would be exciting, but this one is, surveying all that’s known of the trips from the documentary record and filling in what’s not known with a wealth of detail about river commerce and river navigation on the frontiers of America in that time, the landscapes and the settlements Lincoln would have seen.


Some of the information offered is extremely detailed, indeed — such as step-by-step instructions for building a flatboat — but the book vividly evokes a strange and exhilarating time in America, and the dreamlike journeys on rivers that helped build the nation.