Skip to main content

Book 2 of 52: Empire of Mud: The Secret History of Washington, DC by J.D. Dickey

Whenever I went to Washington, D.C., I think about how orderly it is. Just about everything is on a grid, with Metro riding through it. Free museums, great buildings, great works of art, lots of fun things to do (in non-COVID times). Every visit is a treat. When I started freelancing and thought I needed to move for my career, I was must closer to moving here than New York City. I wound up staying in New Jersey (and I'm glad I did), but D.C. still has a special place in my heart. 

But wow, was it really a shit hole for most if its formal existence. I don't mean that in a figurative way either. Sewage used to run right into the Washington City Canal (which still flows under Constitution Avenue), and when the canal backed up? That sewage backed up right into basements and streets.  It was a lawless, dirty, humid stinking mess, so much so that the capital was almost moved to the mid-west (with buildings!) to start all over again.

I knew a bit about D.C.'s less than wonderful beginnings through the books listed below, but J.D. Dickey lays it all out in Empire of Mud: The Secret History of Washington. Its formation is much more complicated than what Hamilton the musical represents (it's Broadway, it can't get that deep, but it's a deep backstory!) 

At one point, one out of every five people in Washington City was enslaved. It was known for prostitution the same way Tampa is now for stripping. One historian said that it was more lawless than Tombstone. Tombstone! After listening to this book, that makes sense. While the book was published in 2014, and didn't go into D.C. most recent push to become a state, Dickey does lay out why that's still such a mess, and also why so many of the city's residents still live in poverty.

I didn't jot down the historian who made the Tombstone comment because I listened to the end of  Empire of Mud while on my way to Florida, and I don't even talk on the phone when I drive (still don't think it's safe, even with handsfree options), so please excuse! That's also why this review is short. I'm currently hanging out in a hotel in Savannah, Ga. avoiding anti-mask people (my hotel won't do room service because of COVID but also won't make guests wear masks because nothing matters anymore), and I'm looking forward to finishing up this review and doing, well, nothing. 

Also, yes, listening to a book still counts as reading. I won't tolerate any ableist nonsense that says otherwise around here.

For further reading:

As before, those are affiliate links, but I also got Empire of Mud and all the books above for free via Libby app, as provided by my library. I highly recommend! 

Like this post? Buy Jen a cup of coffee.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 12 of 52: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi is an author and graphic novelist who grew up in Iran and, as a tween and teen, lived in the country through  the Iranian Revolution before her parents sent her to Europe for school, and for her safety.  As an adult, she wrote Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood ,  a nonfiction graphic novel, originally in French. I read the English translation, which was published in 2003, three years after the original. It was a critical success, won a slew of awards, and became a movie . I haven't read the sequel, Persepolis 2 , but I hope to (you can also  buy them in a set . I found Persepolis  in a Little Free Library, or I'd have bought them combined).  In the tradition of Art Spiegelman's  Maus , which is about the author's father talking to him about the Holocaust,  Persepolis  is a memoir of trauma told through a mix of images and words that when combined, combust into powerful, beautiful and soul cracking art.  For example, Satrapi portrays the 1978 Cinema R

Book 23 of 52: Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

More romance? Of course! The world is on fire, and I can't ingest all the fires all the time. Sometimes I want to turn to genre fiction as an escape, even if an escape is into a patriarchal society where it's SCANDAL that a woman sometimes, when riding a horse, wears pants. Because of Miss Bridgerton is the first book in Julia Quinn's Rokesbys Series , which are prequels to her enormously popular  Bridgerton Series  (and now a  Netflix show ). These books are similar, of course, but instead being set in the Recency era of the 1810s, these books take place at the same time as the American Revolution (though still in England).  Here we meet Sybilla "Bille" Bridergton, who is stuck on the roof of a building because she chased a cat up there. She climbed up herself (scandalous woman!) but also twisted her ankle in the process, which is why she needs help to get down.  That help comes from George Rokesby. Their families are neighbors, and they've known each other

Book 26 of 52: The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil by Tina Brown

I'm not going to write a long review of Tina Brown's The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor — the Truth and the Turmoil  for two reasons. First, it's been hashed to death already, as anything about the royals is, by people who are far more invested in this whole thing than I am. And second, I'm in the frantic "do I really need a jean jacket AND a windbreaker" level of packing before a long trip. I can say that I didn't mind listening to this nearly 18 hour audiobook while the rest of the world is on fire, although of course they are not insulated. We can pretend that the Royal Family lives in a bubble, but they are enormously influential; touched by the same issues of race, class and gender; and Queen Elizabeth II is one of most influential politicians of modern times — and she is a politician, no matter what anyone says. Her death will be a global, cultural moment. Same thing with the Pope, on both fronts. I listened to Brown's  The Diana Chro