Empire of Mud

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Select media: Washington Post, Publishers Weekly

Uncover the sordid past of our nation’s capital.

 Empire of Mud“Make no mistake. Empire of Mud, J.D. Dickey’s history of early Washington, is a bracing and graceful read, but upon finishing its ­calamity-laden pages, you may conclude that a lot of people had a lot of years to get a job done and failed to do it — and that their failure haunts us in ways too numerous to count. So if you can stomach learning how our beautiful, vexed city became a cat toy for national politicians and an ongoing rebuke of democracy, this is as good a place as any to start.”
Washington Post

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 politician’—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. . . . 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 boxed review

“A funny, breezy, and deeply intelligent survey of the singularly strange project of building a national capital city from the ground up.”
—James Howard Kunstler, author of The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency

“J. D. Dickey’s examination of the story behind the creation of the District of Columbia is enlightening, A great book for anyone interested in finding out the true story of our great capital’s origins not just as a piece of historical research but as a great tale told by a masterful storyteller.”
—Jesse J. Holland, author of Black Men Built the Capitol

Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot, is proud to announce the release of EMPIRE OF MUD: The Secret History of Washington, DC, by J.D. Dickey (ISBN: 978-0-7627-8701-2; $26.95 hardcover). The book will be published by Lyons Press on September 2, 2014.

Washington, DC, gleams with stately columns and neoclassical memorials today, but for decades it was one of the worst excuses for a capital city the world had ever seen. Unfilled swamps, filthy canals, and rutted horse trails littered its landscape. Beneath pestilential air, the town’s muddy roads led to a stumpy, half-finished Washington Monument and the wasteland of the national Mall. Boarding houses and slums lined the streets, and opposing factions of volunteer firefighters battled one another in gang warfare. Legendary madams entertained clients from all stations of society, duelists killed one another and mobs ran riot, and political bosses dispatched hooligans and thugs to conduct the nation’s affairs. Featuring a rich cast of characters from radical journalists and political demagogues to corrupt policemen and insidious slave traders, EMPIRE OF MUD unearths and untangles the roots of our capital’s beginnings and explores how the city was tainted from the start, its turbulent history setting a precedent for the dishonesty and mismanagement that have prompted generations to look suspiciously on the deeds of Washington politicians ever since.

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.

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