Water: A Biography

Pantheon. Sept. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9781524748234. $30. POL SCI/HIST
Climate scientist Boccaletti (Sch. of Enterprise and the Environment, Oxford Univ.) weaves a detailed tapestry describing the social, economic, and political history of water, primarily in the form of rivers. He argues that fresh water helped to create and direct the progress of humanity by providing for agriculture and irrigation, transportation, trade, and eventually power generation. Environmental water is a relatively fixed geographic feature that provides stability for the development of cultures and economies, Boccaletti explains, but it’s also a variable and fluid resource that imposes its own risks, like unpredictable flooding and climate changes. He identifies river systems that defined and sustained early civilizations (the Tigris and Euphrates, the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze) and convincingly argues that ancient and contemporary political and economic systems were developed, in part, to address the ownership and control of water and govern the fair and effective use of water as a public good. Different contexts and variables (periodic flooding, rivers that define or cross borders of nation-states, the topography of arable land) mean that multiple interests and solutions remain in competition today. 
VERDICT A fascinating analysis that will bridge the interests of environmentalists and historians, political scientists, or economists.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing