Empire of Mud: The Secret History of Washington, DC

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$26.95  $25.06
Lyons Press
Publish Date
6.12 X 9.54 X 1.02 inches | 1.27 pounds

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About the Author

J. D. Dickey is the author of numerous Eyewitness and Rough Guide travel guides, including Washington, D.C., Directions and The Rough Guide to Washington, D.C., as well as a contributor to The Rough Guide to the Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. He has written for the Independent and Daily Telegraph and created content for online sites such as Feed, Budget Travel, and Void magazine. He lives in Portland, Oregon.


Dickey brings the place to life, relating how it looked, felt, and fuctioned. . . .An entertaining story for local history enthusiasts or general readers eager to peek into the curiosities and scandals in the less-than-reputable past of the now glittering capital.--Library Journal
Certain adjectives spring to mind when reading this eye-opening, in-depth look at the history of America's capital city in the 19th century: sordid, squalid, tawdry, filthy, and corrupt. Dickey pulls no punches as he examines the dark side of the District's misspent youth, from its origins as a compromise carved from several states to its evolution into 'a fiefdom ruled by national politicians'--one whose 'citizens were denied the right to vote for those politicians.' Dickey covers every vice: murder, mayhem, political infighting, prostitution, incompetence, greed, dueling, slavery, and of course, war. Given the bleak portrait he paints of a city perpetually on the edge of chaos, where gangs clash and crime flourishes, where disease runs rampant, where civic projects and grandiose plans languish for decades, it's amazing that the city survived long enough to endure its slow transformation into a real city--albeit one lacking certain rights and representation. Even as Dickey expresses a wistful nostalgia for long-vanished neighborhoods, he bemoans the District's unique political nature. Only someone who loves the city can be so honest about its flaws, and this love shows in Dickey's flowing style and knowledgeable approach.--Publishers Weekly
So many large American cities evolved haphazardly over the course of centuries. Their origins, often shrouded in myths or legends, may be traced back to Native American meeting sites, primitive trading centers, or rudimentary agricultural settlement. In tracking the development of Washington, D.C., in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Dickey repeatedly stresses how the capital was different. This is an engrossing, revealing, but relentlessly depressing account of urban founding and development. According to Dickey, members of the Confederation Congress, frightened by threats from disgruntled military units around Philadelphia, saw the necessity to establish a more distant and secure capital. The Residence Act of 1790, a result of political horse trading between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, determined a more precise location. Dickey effectively illustrates the political and social instability that surrounded the construction of the city. As the city slowly expanded, it was fertile ground for greedy speculators, hordes of corrupt businessmen, and prostitutes. . . .[T]his is a useful. . . .account of the development of our capital.--Booklist, Starred Review
Dickey has compiled a fast-paced history of the development of the US capital. The author's tabloidesque style gives life to the many shady and underhanded characters who, he argues, were involved in the city of Washington's development from its inception. His research into the source material chronicling the history of the District of Columbia, including government reports, firsthand accounts, secondary sources, and newspapers, is solid. Dickey's focus is on the lesser-known history of Washington, so look for extensive information on land speculation, legal battles, show trials, corruption, and prostitution. Because the work is organized into more thematically based chapters, some information is presented out of strict chronological sequence, seemingly for effect. The author argues in his final chapter that by the dawn of the 20th century, Washington, DC, had become the intended ideal of its designers but at the same time the antithesis of the ideas of a democratic society. Dickey links the popular view of the bloated, dysfunctional government in Washington with a final development of the city itself.--CHOICE