Minnesota Historical Society

Red River Rising: The Anatomy of a Flood and the Survival of an American City

$ 18.95

The gripping, true-life story of one of the most destructive floods in U.S. history and its effect on one city and its citizens.

On April 19, 1997, in one of the most dramatic floods in U.S. history, more than 50,000 people abandoned their homes and businesses in Grand Forks, North Dakota. A nation watched as the heart of downtown, engulfed by a river, burst into flames above the water line. Like Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm, Red River Rising is a compelling true-life narrative about the confluence of natural forces and human error that shaped one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history.

Ashley Shelby tells the dramatic stories of the flood: the suspenseful, blizzard-filled spring; the difficulties scientists had in predicting the river's crest; the struggles of people who fought the rising waters and of those who marshalled the city's forces. Despite technological advances in meteorology, despite the brute force of hundreds of earth movers, despite the utter determination of thousands who built and walked the levees, the river won.

This book is a gripping story of the terrific cost of natural disasters and a fascinating portrait of how ordinary people rose to an extraordinary challenge. It is also a clear-eyed examination of the disastrous aftermath: the second-guessing and blame directed at the National Weather Service, at city and federal officials, and at the people of Grand Forks themselves as they struggled to rebuild. With empathy and penetrating intelligence, Shelby uncovers the conflicts, conspiracy theories, and recrimination that tore at the community after the waters fell. Through the powerful stories of memorable individuals Red River Rising gives us new perspective on disaster and community.


  • By: Ashley Shelby
  • Format: 272 pp., 6.25 x 9.25 in
  • Publisher: MHS Press (2004) Paperback reprint March 2018

Red River Rising is a beautifully written, haunting saga of a community in distress. Although the touchstone of this narrative is April 19, 1997, when one of the worst floods in U.S. history occurred, in truth it's a gripping human drama with timeless appeal. Words cannot fully express the admiration I have for Ashley Shelby's seamless and compassionate prose-style.” — Douglas Brinkley, author of Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War and director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans.


Ashley Shelby received a degree in journalism from Indiana University and a Master of Fine Arts in non-fiction writing from Columbia University. Her work has been published in The Nation, Gastronomica, Post Road, The Sonora Review, and The Portland Review, as well as in the anthology Looking Back. Her fiction has been awarded the William Faulkner Short Fiction Award. Shelby grew up in Minneapolis and now lives in New York, where she works in publishing and is the co-curator of the KGB Bar Nonfiction Reading Series.

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