The Mississippi River has seen a good amount of scholarly traffic in the last decade. Thomas Buchanan, Robert Gudmested, and Walter Johnson have plied its fast-moving and murky waters, examining, respectively, the black women and men who labored the river’s vessels, the role of steamboats in the creation of the cotton kingdom, and the river as metaphor: the “dark dream” of expansionist planters’ imaginings. Others, notably Ari Kelman and Christopher Morris, have examined the river as natural force, one that in concrete and occasionally violent ways has sculpted and resculpted the societies that have come and gone along its banks. In her slim volume, Bonnie Stepenoff bridges this divide, producing a labor history that is refracted through an environmentalist understanding. As she notes, “the complex interactions, for good or ill, between workers on the boats and workers in riverfront cities and...

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