Book Review: The Mad, Crazy River

Apr 27, 2012

It’s April.  If you’re dreaming of white water rapids, vermillion cliffs, and death taunting summer fun, I’ve got a book for you: Clyde Eddy’s A Mad, Crazy River.

Mr. Eddy was no seasoned river man.  He was a New York office worker.   But he’d spent his honeymoon at the Grand Canyon, and there he found his river.  It was a river with a reputation.  Scores of boaters had died trying to navigate it.  John Wesley Powell beat it in 1869. 

In 1927, Eddy wanted to make a splash of his own, riding the waves at their height just after snowmelt.  And he wanted to make a name for himself.  He launched 3 sturdy mahogany boats and rookied a crew of 13 unseasoned sailors.  He didn’t think a river man needed to be, as he put it, “tough-whiskered.”  He thought a “pink wristed college boy” could stand the test of danger very well.

He also took a dog, a filmmaker, and a bear.  Yeah, a bear.  He fed it pancakes.  Eddy thought a cute little cub would play well in a documentary film.  He was a bit of a glory-hound, but judging from his prose, not insufferable, and thanks to him, footage of this trip exists. 

   More importantly for readers, Mr. Eddy could write.  The book’s loaded with period details.  His crew patched boats with coffee tins; they wore Stetsons as headgear.  Eddy beautifully choreographs the treacherous white water rapids and splendid canyon scenery. Like the great western novelist Wallace Stegner, he describes vivid landscapes, naming plants and places, detailing geological strata as it changes mile by mile.

   So Read Mad Crazy River for the thrill of the ride and the scenery.  But read it, too, for the glimpse into history.  Early river runners like Clyde Eddy didn’t come to the Colorado just to bask in the wonder and beauty.  They wanted to tame the river in the name of progress and use it for their own purposes. They pillaged Anasazi ruins without compunction.  They wrote on canyon walls.  They were both brave and foolish. 

But thanks to Eddy we have wonderful vintage footage of Colorado white water rapids.  And thanks to UNM Press, we now Clyde Eddy’s fine book in paperback.  If you’re not one of the lucky ones riding waves on the Colorado this summer, do the next best thing.  Let Mr. Eddy take you on tour down The Mad, Crazy River.