NOLA books aren’t just gifts. They’re investments.
Give NOLA Books
I’d like to suggest two books recently released for your consideration as gifts. This is the first of several posts to give you some ideas on something New Orleans you can buy friends and family that doesn’t involve rum or powdered sugar (not that there’s anything wrong with those, mind you).
Bob Mann’s book, Kingfish U – Huey Long and LSU is a wonderful story of the relationship between Louisiana’s best-known politician and the state’s flagship university. From the back cover:
No political leader is more closely identified with Louisiana State University than the flamboyant governor and U.S. senator Huey P. Long, who devoted his last years to turning a small, undistinguished state school into an academic and football powerhouse. From 1931, when Long declared himself the “official thief” for LSU, to his death in 1935, the school’s budget mushroomed, its physical plant burgeoned, its faculty flourished, and its enrollment tripled.
Along with improving LSU’s academic reputation, Long believed the school’s football program and band were crucial to its success. Taking an intense interest in the team, Long delivered pregame and halftime pep talks, devised plays, stalked the sidelines during games, and fired two coaches. He poured money into a larger, flashier band, supervised the hiring of two directors, and, with the second one, wrote a new fight song, “Touchdown for LSU.”
While he rarely meddled in academic affairs, Long insisted that no faculty member criticize him publicly. When students or faculty from “his school” opposed him, retribution was swift. Long’s support for LSU did not come without consequences. His unrelenting involvement almost cost the university its accreditation. And after his death, several of his allies—including his handpicked university president—went to prison in a scandal that almost destroyed LSU.
Rollicking and revealing, Robert Mann’s Kingfish U is the definitive story of Long’s embrace of LSU.
As a graduate of the University of New Orleans, a book about Louisiana State University would usually leave me nonplussed. However, every other book of Bob’s I’ve read has been fantastic. Additionally, I’m the dad of an alum of the Golden Band From Tigerland, and the stories of Long and the band are fantastic. While the book is, at face value, not about New Orleans, Long and the city are intertwined.
Check it out:
Rollin’ on the River
Derby Gisclair’s sixth book, New Orleans Steamboat Stories: The Brief Lives of Mississippi Riverboats, presents the history of steam on the Mississippi. Locals know the stories of flatboats making their way down from as far north as Ohio. Those early travelers to New Orleans got here, but couldn’t return home as easily. Their boats relied on the river’s current. They lacked the power to fight that current. Until the steamboats, that is. From the early days of Fulton’s steamboat to early commerce along the river, to the post-rebellion boom in the cotton trade, Derby offers lots of detail on why New Orleans was so important to shipping and industry in 19th Century America.
From the back cover:
Great civilizations throughout history have been established along the major rivers of the world. In Africa, the Egyptians had the Nile. The Babylonians had the Tigris and Euphrates. In Europe, they had the Danube, the Rhine, the Tiber, and the Seine. And it was no different in America where the Missouri River, the Ohio River, and scores of other tributaries combine to form the Mississippi River as it twists its sinuous way south from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Steamboats shaped America’s future, its economy, and its culture while expanding trade and expanding the country’s footprint into new territories. This economic expansion was not limited to New Orleans, but also to Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Louisville, Nashville, St. Paul, Kansas City, and Chattanooga. A round trip voyage from Pittsburgh to New Orleans that once took six months could now be accomplished in forty-five days. At the same time steamboats made it possible to circulate and disseminate the news and the mail, to spread the various immigrant cultures, food, and music.
Refinements in steamboat design and mechanical enhancements quickly followed, with the majority of these taking shape above the waterline. As if incorporating the massive paddlewheels either on the side or the stern of the boat with the towering smokestacks above deck with ever more powerful engines and boilers below deck were not challenging enough, increased passenger traffic required further enhancements and improvements to the amenities that came along with the popularity of travel by riverboat.
The steamboat continued to be the primary form of long-range transportation even as the railroads continued to expand their influence into freight transportation. Newer, bigger steamboats were built and by the end of the 1860s the cotton trade had recovered and had surpassed their output from a decade earlier.
New Orleans Steamboat Stories contains just a fraction of the stories of a handful of the different steamboats and the people who lived and worked on the Western rivers. They are brief in nature as the average life of a steamboat was generally short. But their impact culturally and commercially, esthetically and economically, made a lasting impact on the development of America.
One of the things that really struck me was the stories of riverboat races. We think of a race as a simple point-to-point contest. Steamboats fighting to be the fastest from New Orleans to St. Louis were anything but simple. If you enjoy the city’s history, you’ll want to know how cotton truly was king, and that means reading the Steamboat Stories.
Check it out:
More to come
Fiction, poetry, and more history to come as we explore what’s out there this holiday season. And no, you’re not exempt from hearing about my books. 🙂