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Through the Mountains: The French Broad River and Time by John E. Ross

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One of the greatest achievements in the history of American publishing was the Rivers of America series which was inaugurated in 1937 and completed in 1974 by three different prominent New York publishers. The books were mostly authored by literary figures, not historians or geographers, thus recognizing the importance of river watersheds to all aspects of the lives of people. The sixty-five books in the series pretty much covered the watersheds where all Americans lived and were often highly anticipated as literary events. Their authors are a who’s who of American literature from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas to Edgar Lee Masters and included the first book illustrated by Andrew Wyeth. Wilma Dykeman (1920-2006) had lived her whole life near the waters of the French Broad River in both North Carolina and Tennessee, and was an ideal person to write the book on that river for that series. At the time, however, she had not published a single book, and her publisher objected to her chapter on the pollution of the river, written seven years before Silent Spring by Rachel Carson established environmental degradation as a prominent topic for books. Wilma Dykeman said she would withdraw her book from consideration unless it included that chapter, and they caved. More than sixty-five years have now transpired since Wilma Dykeman’s book appeared. No wonder UT Press decided another French Broad book made sense, even if it never could loom as large as Wilma Dykeman’s book. The title of this new book recognizes one of the most dramatic features of the mountains that form the boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina – rivers that cut through the mountains from North Carolina into Tennessee. “Through the Mountains gives us fresh perspectives on the natural and cultural history of the whole French Broad River watershed in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. “As John Ross leads us through centuries of human habitation in the watershed, a clear theme emerges: the ongoing tension between economic development and environmental preservation, and the need for humankind to discover—or reclaim—sustainable ways of living within our natural world.”—Jim Stokely, son of Wilma Dykeman. “John Ross has given us a valued lens to the meandering lifespan of one of our storied rivers, embraced by the ancient Appalachian Mountains. It is a welcome contemporary companion to Wilma Dykeman’s iconic The French Broad in weaving the interconnectivity of land, water, and unfolding human habitation. In a larger sense, Through the Mountains is a universal chronicle of the abiding promise and peril of our nation’s vast network of rivers.”—Dr. Doug Orr. The author, John E. Ross, has written more than a dozen books about the natural world and is a recipient of the National Outdoor Book Award.

Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2021. 283 pages with Index, Selected Bibliography, Notes, maps, photos and illustrations. Hardback in dust jacket