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Water

A Biography

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Spanning millennia and continents, here is a stunningly revealing history of how the distribution of water has shaped human civilization. Boccaletti, of The Nature Conservancy, “tackles the most important story of our time: our relationship with water in a world of looming scarcity” (Kelly McEvers, NPR Host).
 
Writing with authority and brio, Giulio Boc­caletti—honorary research associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Univer­sity of Oxford—shrewdly combines environmental and social history, beginning with the earliest civ­ilizations of sedentary farmers on the banks of the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates Rivers. Even as he describes how these societies were made possible by sea-level changes from the last glacial melt, he incisively examines how this type of farming led to irrigation and multiple cropping, which, in turn, led to a population explosion and labor specialization.
 
We see with clarity how irrigation’s structure informed social structure (inventions such as the calendar sprung from agricultural necessity); how in ancient Greece, the communal ownership of wells laid the groundwork for democracy; how the Greek and Roman experiences with water security resulted in systems of taxation; and how the modern world as we know it began with a legal framework for the development of water infrastructure.
 
Extraordinary for its monumental scope and piercing insightfulness, Water: A Biography richly enlarges our understanding of our relationship to—and fundamental reliance on—the most elemental substance on earth.

“It was an inspired idea to write a ‘biography’ of water and Giulio Boccaletti has carried it off in style. His book is impressively global in scope. It ranges from the earliest human societies to questions of water security in our own time, combining bold lines of argument with compelling examples. Ambitious, assured and very well written, Water: A Biography is an impressive and very welcome addition to the literature.” —David Blackbourn, Cornelius Vanderbilt Distinguished Chair of History, Vanderbilt University.
 
“Giulio Boccaletti’s book is a remarkable achievement: a readable history of the world, seen through the history of water management. He shows, with clarity and erudition, how this is in reality a political, not a technological issue. Throughout history, humans have tried to conquer water, but water always wins; and it would be better for humanity if we realised it. The book is a real tour de force; it should be essential reading for every politician, as well as the rest of us.” —Chris Wickham, Chichele Professor of Medieval History, University of Oxford

“Brimming with ideas and unexpected correlations, Water is far more than a biography of its nominal subject. . . . The book stands as a compelling history of civilization itself.” —Gerard Helferich, Wall Street Journal Book Review
 
“This is one of the most ambitious books that I’ve read in a long time. It is both deep and broad.” —Ari Shapiro, NPR, All Things Considered
 
“[A] wonderfully detailed account of humankind’s relationship with water. . . . During this time of accelerated population growth, climate change, and political instability, Water is essential reading.” —George Kendall, Booklist
 
“A renowned expert on natural resource security and environmental stability, lending Water a pressing, historically fascinating, and informative arc. . . . Water, the book, is a smart new chapter on the same subject that turned Joan Didion’s head toward the Hoover Dam.” —Sloane Crosley, Departures

“A fascinating analysis that will bridge the interests of environmentalists and historians, political scientists, or economists.” —Wade Lee-Smith, Library Journal

“Boccaletti brilliantly traces the history of how human civilization has been shaped by its attempts to control water for economic and societal benefit. As the impacts of climate change become clearer, policymakers the world over would be well-served to recognize water as a public good, respecting the importance of this invaluable, shared resource to our very survival.” —Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior 2013–17
 
“Provides essential reading for those seeking to explore how humanity’s relationship with nature has influenced the development of legal and political systems and offers invaluable insights into current debates surrounding climate change and sustainability. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.” —Lee C. Bollinger, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University

“A masterly, compelling history of the relationship between society and water. It weaves politics, history, and science in a riveting narrative that spans millennia. Giulio Boccaletti has spent years working on water issues at the highest level and it shows. This is a monumental work, which is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the role of water in human history.” —Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman Emeritus, Nestlé Group
 
“A leading expert has now shown us he's also a great storyteller. Giulio Boccaletti tackles the most important story of our time: our relationship with water in a world of looming scarcity.” —Kelly McEvers, NPR Host
 
“Giulio Boccaletti makes a strikingly original and persuasive case that the history of human civilization can be understood as a never-ending struggle over water. Boccaletti’s command of a vast range of material, across time and space, is astonishing.” —Nicholas Lemann, Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism, Columbia University
 
“In this deeply researched and vivid story, Giulio Boccaletti deftly reveals how the struggle to master water is also the root of all organized society. From antiquity to today’s precipice of water scarcity, he spins a dramatic, sweeping story that forces the reader to reappraise all of human history through a water lens. A transformative, dramatic and revelatory tale of how our struggle to master water defines us as humans.” —John Bredar, Vice-President for National Programming, WGBH
 
“What makes this fascinating book stand out from other accounts of how water has shaped human history across the ages is Boccaletti’s brilliant and nuanced treatment of the political and economic dimensions of water’s role in history. The breadth and substance of the narrative are outstanding. The book is a tour de force!” —Michael Hanemann, Julie A. Wrigley Chair in Sustainability, Arizona State
 
“The story of Water is our story. Giulio Boccaletti takes us on an extraordinary journey through water history, from the retreating glaciers of the ice age which shaped the landscape and the livelihoods of local communities, to the emergence of nation states and the industrialised world, presided over by democrats, despots and dreamers. This book is a cautionary tale for our times” —Alan Yentob, BBC Producer and Presenter
 
“As humanity strays across planetary boundaries, Boccaletti’s political biography of water is essential reading. This bold and ambitious saga offers important lessons and instils humility in the reader, both of which we need as we face the dangers of increasing pressure on nature, climate change, and corrosive inequality.” —Rachel Kyte, Dean, The Fletcher School, Tufts University
 
“A dazzling tale spanning millennia, geography, science, and human civilizations, that is more than the story of water. It is a story of ideas and institutions; of tensions between individual enterprise and collective action; of human needs and planetary dynamics. I am astonished at its breadth, depth, and scholarship, at once encyclopaedic yet also highly readable.” —Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer, The Nature Conservancy
 
“Magisterial. Boccaletti has pinned down our complex relationship with our most vital resource. We live, like the ancients, in a hydraulic civilization—one determined to a remarkable degree by where and when we can find water.  As he reveals with startling clarity, we face a water crisis as profound as our climate crisis.  The fate of the Anthropocene hangs on the fate of water.” —Fred Pearce, author of When The Rivers Run Dry
 
“Excellent. Boccaletti takes the reader on a polyglot tour de force that shows how the flow of human history, economics and geopolitics is utterly connected to the constant blue thread of our need for water. Water A Biography poses challenging questions about how best to secure our water future and, as a result, ensure our very existence.” —Dominic Waughray, Managing Director, World Economic Forum

“Water could have no better biographer than Giulio Boccaletti who takes us on a fascinating journey, telling the story of how humanity's interactions with this most precious resource have shaped our history, our present, and will define our future.  Brilliant and enlightening.” —Eric D. Beinhocker, Professor, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
 
“A tour de force world history focused on water and how we use it . . . Ingenious.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
© Andrea Mattiello
GIULIO BOCCALETTI is a globally recognized expert on natural resource security and environmental sustainability. He is an honorary research associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford. Trained as a physicist and climate scientist, he holds a doctorate from Princeton University, where he was a NASA Earth Systems Science Fellow. He has been a research scientist at MIT and was a partner at McKinsey & Company, where he was one of the leaders of its Sustainability and Resource Productivity Practice, and the chief strategy officer and global ambassador for water at The Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s largest environmental organizations. Boccaletti frequently writes on environmental issues for the news media, including Project Syndicate and The Guardian, and is an expert contributor to the World Economic Forum. His work on water has been featured in the PBS documentary series H2O: The Molecule That Made Us. He lives in London. View titles by Giulio Boccaletti
Prologue ix
 
PART I ORIGINS
1 Standing Still in a World of Moving Water 3
2 The Rise of the Hydraulic State 16
3 Bronze Age Globalization 29
4 An Article of Faith 41
5 The Politics of Water 53
6 Res Publica 66
 
PART II A THOUSAND YEARS OF CONVERGENCE
7 Fragments of the Past 83
8 The Republic Returns 96
9 Water Sovereignty 110
10 American River Republic 123
1 1 Global Water Empire 136
12 The Great Utopian Synthesis 151

PART III THE HYDRAULIC CENTURY
13 Setting the Stage for Revolution 167
14 Crisis and Its Discontent 181
15 Industrializing Modernity 195
16 FDR’s Modernization Project 210
17 Cold War 224
18 The Great Acceleration 238
19 The End of an Era 251
 
PART IV FINALE
20 A World of Scarcity 267
2 1 A Planetary Experiment 281
Coda 293

Acknowledgments 299
Notes 301
Bibliography 331
Index 359

Prologue 
 
On July 19, 2010, a Monday evening, water came crashing down the Yangtze River. Intense rain from the East Asian monsoon hit southwest China. Water poured from the sky. As Monday turned into Tuesday, the flood roared down: every second, seventy thousand cubic meters of water came through, equivalent to thirty Olympic-size swimming pools. In the past, water would have collected in the river, gushing between the rocky banks of three incised gorges in the middle of the mainstem above the city of Yichang. The swollen river would have then overwhelmed the embankments, flooding the plains downstream. Instead, that night the current gently slipped into a wide lake near the city of Chongqing, far above those three incised gorges, oozing out as the crest of the flood dissipated. Six hundred kilometers downstream, the water level in the reservoir rose by four meters, held back by twenty-eight million cubic meters of concrete. Nothing more happened. Three Gorges Dam had passed its first real test.
 
The plan to build the largest dam in the world had been green-lit in 1992, under Chinese premier Li Peng. The approval had not been without controversy. Li had trained as a hydroelectric engineer in the Soviet Union. He had pushed to get the project commissioned despite concerns for the relocation of one and a half million people, and for the loss of ecosystems and historical artifacts. Eventually, a majority of the National People’s Congress voted for the construction. Work began in 1994. Only nine years later the reservoir began filling, ahead of schedule and under budget. 
 
The story of why and how this enormous piece of infrastructure came to be is a familiar one. The high modernist project of the twentieth century was to liberate society from a variable climate, to celebrate the final victory of man in his conquest of nature. Today, everyone operates under the illusion that water on the landscape is, or should be, nothing more than an inert backdrop on the stage of human events. That illusion is created because of the forty-five thousand structures taller than fifteen meters that dam the rivers of the world, a number that grows to millions if all barrages cluttering streams are counted. This enormous stock of infrastructure is capable of catching around 20 percent of the world’s annual runoff, the water that collects in rivers and streams across all lands. Modern water infrastructure has replumbed the planet. Three Gorges Dam is one of the latest additions to this vast stock, proof that this modern story of progress has yet to fully run its course. Technology enthusiasts celebrate its achievement, while environmentalists bemoan its impacts. Either way, it is the story of a technological emancipation from nature, in which science and engineering have given humanity, for better or for worse, full control over its own destiny.
 
This story is familiar. It is also wrong. The story of water is not technological, but political. The impact of water on society must be read through the scars left by a continuous cycle of adaptation. All communities relate to water over time through a process of action and reaction. A levee might protect people settled behind it. A dam might store water for those times when none comes from the sky. But as towns grow and farms expand, people forget why those structures were built in the first place. Society evolves and habituates to its newfound security. Institutions develop in the shadow of infrastructure designed to create an illusion of stability. Then one day, unexpectedly, the levee fails or the reservoir behind the dam goes dry. Loss follows, sometimes catastrophically. People are forced to reconsider their environment, which is no longer the inert scenery to their life. They learn, rebuild, expand, reaching a new level of security. Their institutions adjust, habits change. The cycle repeats.
 
Technological progress and people’s emancipation from nature are a secondary theme in this story. The effects of humanity’s ongoing relationship with water are not merely written in rivers. They are etched into the fabric of society, into the beliefs, behaviors, and systems that regulate everyday life. What is most engineered is not landscape, but political institutions.
 
The central argument of this book is that humanity’s attempts to organize society while surrounded by moving water led people to create institutions, which tied individuals together in mutual dependence as they tried to deal with their environment. From countless variations over centuries, the republic emerged as the most successful mechanism to mediate the modern concerns of individual freedom and collective benefit in the face of water’s overwhelming force. The argument is not strictly deterministic: water by itself could not have “determined” the form of political institutions. However, institutions did emerge, at least in part, so that society could express its agency over a changing environment. In that sense, the heart of the story of water on the planet is a political answer to material conditions. Seen through this lens, the roots of modern society’s relationship to water go far back in time. The story begins when, ten thousand years ago, humans took the crucial step of becoming sedentary. By then, Homo sapiens had already been around for three hundred thousand years, but from a fixed place of observation, the full force of water became overwhelming. Droughts interfered with food production. Storms disrupted people’s lives. Floods destroyed communities. Because of water’s force, individuals had limited power in controlling their environment. Rather, society as a whole had to learn how to exercise its own power.
 
Over the course of human history, life on the water landscape forged a social contract. Water is the ultimate res publicaa public good—a moving, formless substance that defies private ownership, is hard to contain, and requires collective management. People developed institutions that required mediating individual desires and collective action in the face of water’s force. Those institutions eventually became dominant across the modern world. Legal and political systems, the territorial nation-state, finance, a system of trade, all evolved over thousands of years, while communities tried to ensure they could survive—even harness—the force of water in service of a commonwealth. Without understanding where those ideas came from, and how their development related to water, it is impossible to make sense of why and how the landscape looks the way it does today.
 
Part I of this book follows the dialectic relationship between the  water landscape and human society from the neolithic to classical antiquity, showing how it contributed to shaping statehood. Part II then shows how—over a thousand years—antiquity was metabolized by European nations into the modern state. The legal legacy of Rome, classical republicanism, political liberalism, the sirens of utopianism, all mixed to inspire institutions, from the American Republic to the British Empire, which set the stage for the twentieth century. Part III describes how the power of the modern state and the force of industrial capitalism led to the most radical transformation of landscape in history. Its success was so complete as to make society’s relationship with water invisible, hidden under the fabric of modern life, and sowing the seeds of the dangerous illusion that governs the present. Part IV, the last one, describes how, below the visible surface of a society that believes itself separated from nature, the undercurrents of water’s agency still flow as powerful as ever.
 
Such a millennial story is not just an account of events and physical constructions. It is a story of ideas. In fact, it is impossible to explain the former without the latter. Three Gorges Dam, for example, was first the product of Dr. Sun’s dream. Sun Yat-sen is often referred to as the father of the Chinese nation. He was a character of extraordinary complexity, a voracious intellect, a lifelong radical, a charismatic leader. Dr. Sun’s life exposed him to a broad spectrum of cultures, tracing a path from his birth in a village in Guangdong, to his early schooling in an Anglican college in the kingdom of Hawaii, to his training as a medical doctor in Hong Kong in the 1880s. Along the way, he converted to Christianity. He was a physician, but his gift was revolution.
 
Dr. Sun was inspired by the profound transformations of the end of the nineteenth century, caught between British imperial aspirations and the utopianism of a modern, industrial society mesmerized by the echoes of classical republicanism. He sought to first reform and then overthrow the reactionary Qing regime in China. During years of exile and failed revolts, his anti-reactionary fervor grew. Like many modern revolutionaries he was intimately familiar with the history of Western political thought. He embraced ideals of emancipation and justice, admiring the French, American, and British constitutional settlements, even while resenting the policies those powers pursued. After the revolution of 1911, the Qing finally overthrown, Dr. Sun became the president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of China. The opportunity to make his dreams a reality had arrived.
 
Alas, China’s first modern republic quickly descended into chaos, as the old military elites turned to dictatorship. Unable to realize his utopian vision for the future, Dr. Sun moved to the French concession in Shanghai and wrote about it instead. International Development of China was his blueprint for the country’s economic rebirth. His point of reference was America. Sun Yat-sen proposed to “make capitalism create socialism in China so that these two economic forces of human evolution will work side by side in future civilization.” His political philosophy required transforming the water resources of China. He compared the potential of the Yellow River to that of the Mississippi, imagining a delta designed to mimic the jetties of New Orleans. He imagined improving existing canals and embankments, constructing new waterways, hydropower, and irrigated agriculture. Then, he imagined a dam in the middle of the mainstem of the Yangtze, at three incised gorges, to “form locks to enable crafts to ascend the river as well as to generate water power.” It was 1920.
 
Dr. Sun was not an engineer, but the interpreter of ideas that stretched as far back as human history. His was the dream of a utopian and a revolutionary. The Three Gorges Dam that stopped the flood in 2010 was not about catching up to the latest technology. The dam was the product of a society that had long chosen to tame the environment on an unprecedented scale. It was the product of a hundred-year- old dream steeped in republican values, one which spoke of commonwealth and progress, of rights of individuals and national aspirations, and which had crystallized long before the modern multipurpose dam had become a common feature of the landscape.
 
Dr. Sun’s dream gave the idea of Three Gorges Dam the strength to persist through time, through Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government, through Mao Zedong’s era, through Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, to, finally, Li Peng’s premiership. Once built, the dam seemed to prove that those living downstream could sleep soundly in the knowledge that something powerful watched over them. The significance of that security was in its political intent. Its engineering had become an instrument of the state in creating an illusion of final emancipation from nature in service of a commonwealth. The question is what happens when—not if—the illusion of emancipation is shattered. 
 
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, humanity has become a force on the planet so powerful that some have renamed this era “the Anthropocene.” But that has not heralded the conquest of nature. Far from it. The profound modifications inflicted on the planet have tightened, not severed people’s relationship with water. The increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is having a measurable impact on the energy balance of the planet, modifying Earth’s water cycle. The extraordinary rainfall of 2010 on the Yangtze basin was a harbinger of much more to come. Changes in the climate system will eventually shatter the illusion of any final emancipation from nature. When they do, what will be concerning, above all, will not be the flaws they expose in the engineered landscape, but the societal response they stimulate.
 
The success of a republic in managing the tension between individual liberty and collective action rests on fragile and unstable foundations. By destabilizing those foundations, the water events of the twenty-first century could have profound political consequences. What compromises people will be willing to make in order to achieve further security in a newly uncertain world—what sacrifices to individual liberty they will endure and what choices they will make in the pursuit of a collective benefit—will determine whether the unstable balance between freedom and commonwealth can be preserved. That is, above all, what is of fundamental importance to everybody’s future.
 
The questions posed by having to manage the power of water on the planet are not primarily technical, scientific, or even aesthetic. They are fundamentally questions about power, about who gets to decide what happens in everyone’s home. The answer is often found in the minds of radical dreamers. Dr. Sun’s dream a hundred years ago led to the Three Gorges Dam. Similar dreams created the modern world. To imagine what kind of future current dreams might bring, it is crucial to understand humanity’s relationship to water, the most powerful agent of the climate system on Earth. For that, the combined story of people and water—a biography of water—matters a great deal.

"Brimming with ideas and unexpected correlations, Water is far more than a biography of its nominal subject . . . The book stands as a compelling history of civilization itself."The Wall Street Journal Book Review
 
"This is one of the most ambitious books that I've read in a long time. It is both deep and broad."—NPR, All Things Considered
 
"[A] wonderfully detailed account of humankind’s relationship with water . . . During this time of accelerated population growth, climate change, and political instability, Water is essential reading."Booklist
 
"A renowned expert on natural resource security and environmental stability, lending Water a pressing, historically fascinating, and informative arc . . . Water, the book, is a smart new chapter on the same subject that turned Joan Didion’s head toward the Hoover Dam."—Sloane Crosley, Departures

"A fascinating analysis that will bridge the interests of environmentalists and historians, political scientists, or economists."Library Journal

“Boccaletti brilliantly traces the history of how human civilization has been shaped by its attempts to control water for economic and societal benefit. As the impacts of climate change become clearer, policymakers the world over would be well-served to recognize water as a public good, respecting the importance of this invaluable, shared resource to our very survival.”—Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior 2013-17
 
“Provides essential reading for those seeking to explore how humanity’s relationship with nature has influenced the development of legal and political systems and offers invaluable insights into current debates surrounding climate change and sustainability. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.” —Lee C. Bollinger, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University

“Giulio Boccaletti’s book is a remarkable achievement: a readable history of the world, seen through the history of water management. He shows, with clarity and erudition, how this is in reality a political, not a technological issue. Throughout history, humans have tried to conquer water, but water always wins; and it would be better for humanity if we realised it. The book is a real tour de force; it should be essential reading for every politician, as well as the rest of us.” —Chris Wickham, Chichele Professor of Medieval History, University of Oxford

“A masterly, compelling history of the relationship between society and water. It weaves politics, history, and science in a riveting narrative that spans millennia. Giulio Boccaletti has spent years working on water issues at the highest level and it shows. This is a monumental work, which is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the role of water in human history.” —Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman Emeritus, Nestlé Group
 
“A leading expert has now shown us he's also a great storyteller. Giulio Boccaletti tackles the most important story of our time: our relationship with water in a world of looming scarcity.”— Kelly McEvers, NPR Host
 
“Giulio Boccaletti makes a strikingly original and persuasive case that the history of human civilization can be understood as a never-ending struggle over water. Boccaletti’s command of a vast range of material, across time and space, is astonishing.” — Nicholas Lemann, Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism, Columbia University.
 
“It was an inspired idea to write a ‘biography’ of water and Giulio Boccaletti has carried it off in style. His book is impressively global in scope. It ranges from the earliest human societies to questions of water security in our own time, combining bold lines of argument with compelling examples. Ambitious, assured and very well written, Water: A Biography is an impressive and very welcome addition to the literature.” —David Blackbourn, Cornelius Vanderbilt Distinguished Chair of History, Vanderbilt University.
 
“In this deeply researched and vivid story, Giulio Boccaletti deftly reveals how the struggle to master water is also the root of all organized society. From antiquity to today’s precipice of water scarcity, he spins a dramatic, sweeping story that forces the reader to reappraise all of human history through a water lens. A transformative, dramatic and revelatory tale of how our struggle to master water defines us as humans.” —John Bredar, Vice-President for National Programming, WGBH
 
“What makes this fascinating book stand out from other accounts of how water has shaped human history across the ages is Boccaletti’s brilliant and nuanced treatment of the political and economic dimensions of water’s role in history. The breadth and substance of the narrative are outstanding. The book is a tour de force!” —Michael Hanemann, Julie A. Wrigley Chair in Sustainability, Arizona State
 
“The story of Water is our story. Giulio Boccaletti takes us on an extraordinary journey through water history, from the retreating glaciers of the ice age which shaped the landscape and the livelihoods of local communities, to the emergence of nation states and the industrialised world, presided over by democrats, despots and dreamers. This book is a cautionary tale for our times” —Alan Yentob, BBC Producer and Presenter
 
“As humanity strays across planetary boundaries, Boccaletti’s political biography of water is essential reading. This bold and ambitious saga offers important lessons and instils humility in the reader, both of which we need as we face the dangers of increasing pressure on nature, climate change, and corrosive inequality.” —Rachel Kyte, Dean, The Fletcher School, Tufts University
 
“A dazzling tale spanning millennia, geography, science, and human civilizations, that is more than the story of water. It is a story of ideas and institutions; of tensions between individual enterprise and collective action; of human needs and planetary dynamics. I am astonished at its breadth, depth, and scholarship, at once encyclopaedic yet also highly readable.” —Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer, The Nature Conservancy
 
“Magisterial.  Boccaletti has pinned down our complex relationship with our most vital resource. We live, like the ancients, in a hydraulic civilization – one determined to a remarkable degree by where and when we can find water.  As he reveals with startling clarity, we face a water crisis as profound as our climate crisis.  The fate of the Anthropocene hangs on the fate of water.” —Fred Pearce, author of When The Rivers Run Dry
 
“Excellent. Boccaletti takes the reader on a polyglot tour de force that shows how the flow of human history, economics and geopolitics is utterly connected to the constant blue thread of our need for water. Water A Biography poses challenging questions about how best to secure our water future and, as a result, ensure our very existence.” —Dominic Waughray, Managing Director, World Economic Forum

“Water could have no better biographer than Giulio Boccaletti who takes us on a fascinating journey, telling the story of how humanity's interactions with this most precious resource have shaped our history, our present, and will define our future.  Brilliant and enlightening.” —Eric D. Beinhocker, Professor, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
 
"A tour de force world history focused on water and how we use it . . . Ingenious"Kirkus Reviews (starred)
 
 

About

Spanning millennia and continents, here is a stunningly revealing history of how the distribution of water has shaped human civilization. Boccaletti, of The Nature Conservancy, “tackles the most important story of our time: our relationship with water in a world of looming scarcity” (Kelly McEvers, NPR Host).
 
Writing with authority and brio, Giulio Boc­caletti—honorary research associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, Univer­sity of Oxford—shrewdly combines environmental and social history, beginning with the earliest civ­ilizations of sedentary farmers on the banks of the Nile, the Tigris, and the Euphrates Rivers. Even as he describes how these societies were made possible by sea-level changes from the last glacial melt, he incisively examines how this type of farming led to irrigation and multiple cropping, which, in turn, led to a population explosion and labor specialization.
 
We see with clarity how irrigation’s structure informed social structure (inventions such as the calendar sprung from agricultural necessity); how in ancient Greece, the communal ownership of wells laid the groundwork for democracy; how the Greek and Roman experiences with water security resulted in systems of taxation; and how the modern world as we know it began with a legal framework for the development of water infrastructure.
 
Extraordinary for its monumental scope and piercing insightfulness, Water: A Biography richly enlarges our understanding of our relationship to—and fundamental reliance on—the most elemental substance on earth.

“It was an inspired idea to write a ‘biography’ of water and Giulio Boccaletti has carried it off in style. His book is impressively global in scope. It ranges from the earliest human societies to questions of water security in our own time, combining bold lines of argument with compelling examples. Ambitious, assured and very well written, Water: A Biography is an impressive and very welcome addition to the literature.” —David Blackbourn, Cornelius Vanderbilt Distinguished Chair of History, Vanderbilt University.
 
“Giulio Boccaletti’s book is a remarkable achievement: a readable history of the world, seen through the history of water management. He shows, with clarity and erudition, how this is in reality a political, not a technological issue. Throughout history, humans have tried to conquer water, but water always wins; and it would be better for humanity if we realised it. The book is a real tour de force; it should be essential reading for every politician, as well as the rest of us.” —Chris Wickham, Chichele Professor of Medieval History, University of Oxford

“Brimming with ideas and unexpected correlations, Water is far more than a biography of its nominal subject. . . . The book stands as a compelling history of civilization itself.” —Gerard Helferich, Wall Street Journal Book Review
 
“This is one of the most ambitious books that I’ve read in a long time. It is both deep and broad.” —Ari Shapiro, NPR, All Things Considered
 
“[A] wonderfully detailed account of humankind’s relationship with water. . . . During this time of accelerated population growth, climate change, and political instability, Water is essential reading.” —George Kendall, Booklist
 
“A renowned expert on natural resource security and environmental stability, lending Water a pressing, historically fascinating, and informative arc. . . . Water, the book, is a smart new chapter on the same subject that turned Joan Didion’s head toward the Hoover Dam.” —Sloane Crosley, Departures

“A fascinating analysis that will bridge the interests of environmentalists and historians, political scientists, or economists.” —Wade Lee-Smith, Library Journal

“Boccaletti brilliantly traces the history of how human civilization has been shaped by its attempts to control water for economic and societal benefit. As the impacts of climate change become clearer, policymakers the world over would be well-served to recognize water as a public good, respecting the importance of this invaluable, shared resource to our very survival.” —Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior 2013–17
 
“Provides essential reading for those seeking to explore how humanity’s relationship with nature has influenced the development of legal and political systems and offers invaluable insights into current debates surrounding climate change and sustainability. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.” —Lee C. Bollinger, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University

“A masterly, compelling history of the relationship between society and water. It weaves politics, history, and science in a riveting narrative that spans millennia. Giulio Boccaletti has spent years working on water issues at the highest level and it shows. This is a monumental work, which is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the role of water in human history.” —Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman Emeritus, Nestlé Group
 
“A leading expert has now shown us he's also a great storyteller. Giulio Boccaletti tackles the most important story of our time: our relationship with water in a world of looming scarcity.” —Kelly McEvers, NPR Host
 
“Giulio Boccaletti makes a strikingly original and persuasive case that the history of human civilization can be understood as a never-ending struggle over water. Boccaletti’s command of a vast range of material, across time and space, is astonishing.” —Nicholas Lemann, Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism, Columbia University
 
“In this deeply researched and vivid story, Giulio Boccaletti deftly reveals how the struggle to master water is also the root of all organized society. From antiquity to today’s precipice of water scarcity, he spins a dramatic, sweeping story that forces the reader to reappraise all of human history through a water lens. A transformative, dramatic and revelatory tale of how our struggle to master water defines us as humans.” —John Bredar, Vice-President for National Programming, WGBH
 
“What makes this fascinating book stand out from other accounts of how water has shaped human history across the ages is Boccaletti’s brilliant and nuanced treatment of the political and economic dimensions of water’s role in history. The breadth and substance of the narrative are outstanding. The book is a tour de force!” —Michael Hanemann, Julie A. Wrigley Chair in Sustainability, Arizona State
 
“The story of Water is our story. Giulio Boccaletti takes us on an extraordinary journey through water history, from the retreating glaciers of the ice age which shaped the landscape and the livelihoods of local communities, to the emergence of nation states and the industrialised world, presided over by democrats, despots and dreamers. This book is a cautionary tale for our times” —Alan Yentob, BBC Producer and Presenter
 
“As humanity strays across planetary boundaries, Boccaletti’s political biography of water is essential reading. This bold and ambitious saga offers important lessons and instils humility in the reader, both of which we need as we face the dangers of increasing pressure on nature, climate change, and corrosive inequality.” —Rachel Kyte, Dean, The Fletcher School, Tufts University
 
“A dazzling tale spanning millennia, geography, science, and human civilizations, that is more than the story of water. It is a story of ideas and institutions; of tensions between individual enterprise and collective action; of human needs and planetary dynamics. I am astonished at its breadth, depth, and scholarship, at once encyclopaedic yet also highly readable.” —Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer, The Nature Conservancy
 
“Magisterial. Boccaletti has pinned down our complex relationship with our most vital resource. We live, like the ancients, in a hydraulic civilization—one determined to a remarkable degree by where and when we can find water.  As he reveals with startling clarity, we face a water crisis as profound as our climate crisis.  The fate of the Anthropocene hangs on the fate of water.” —Fred Pearce, author of When The Rivers Run Dry
 
“Excellent. Boccaletti takes the reader on a polyglot tour de force that shows how the flow of human history, economics and geopolitics is utterly connected to the constant blue thread of our need for water. Water A Biography poses challenging questions about how best to secure our water future and, as a result, ensure our very existence.” —Dominic Waughray, Managing Director, World Economic Forum

“Water could have no better biographer than Giulio Boccaletti who takes us on a fascinating journey, telling the story of how humanity's interactions with this most precious resource have shaped our history, our present, and will define our future.  Brilliant and enlightening.” —Eric D. Beinhocker, Professor, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
 
“A tour de force world history focused on water and how we use it . . . Ingenious.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Author

© Andrea Mattiello
GIULIO BOCCALETTI is a globally recognized expert on natural resource security and environmental sustainability. He is an honorary research associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford. Trained as a physicist and climate scientist, he holds a doctorate from Princeton University, where he was a NASA Earth Systems Science Fellow. He has been a research scientist at MIT and was a partner at McKinsey & Company, where he was one of the leaders of its Sustainability and Resource Productivity Practice, and the chief strategy officer and global ambassador for water at The Nature Conservancy, one of the world’s largest environmental organizations. Boccaletti frequently writes on environmental issues for the news media, including Project Syndicate and The Guardian, and is an expert contributor to the World Economic Forum. His work on water has been featured in the PBS documentary series H2O: The Molecule That Made Us. He lives in London. View titles by Giulio Boccaletti

Table of Contents

Prologue ix
 
PART I ORIGINS
1 Standing Still in a World of Moving Water 3
2 The Rise of the Hydraulic State 16
3 Bronze Age Globalization 29
4 An Article of Faith 41
5 The Politics of Water 53
6 Res Publica 66
 
PART II A THOUSAND YEARS OF CONVERGENCE
7 Fragments of the Past 83
8 The Republic Returns 96
9 Water Sovereignty 110
10 American River Republic 123
1 1 Global Water Empire 136
12 The Great Utopian Synthesis 151

PART III THE HYDRAULIC CENTURY
13 Setting the Stage for Revolution 167
14 Crisis and Its Discontent 181
15 Industrializing Modernity 195
16 FDR’s Modernization Project 210
17 Cold War 224
18 The Great Acceleration 238
19 The End of an Era 251
 
PART IV FINALE
20 A World of Scarcity 267
2 1 A Planetary Experiment 281
Coda 293

Acknowledgments 299
Notes 301
Bibliography 331
Index 359

Excerpt

Prologue 
 
On July 19, 2010, a Monday evening, water came crashing down the Yangtze River. Intense rain from the East Asian monsoon hit southwest China. Water poured from the sky. As Monday turned into Tuesday, the flood roared down: every second, seventy thousand cubic meters of water came through, equivalent to thirty Olympic-size swimming pools. In the past, water would have collected in the river, gushing between the rocky banks of three incised gorges in the middle of the mainstem above the city of Yichang. The swollen river would have then overwhelmed the embankments, flooding the plains downstream. Instead, that night the current gently slipped into a wide lake near the city of Chongqing, far above those three incised gorges, oozing out as the crest of the flood dissipated. Six hundred kilometers downstream, the water level in the reservoir rose by four meters, held back by twenty-eight million cubic meters of concrete. Nothing more happened. Three Gorges Dam had passed its first real test.
 
The plan to build the largest dam in the world had been green-lit in 1992, under Chinese premier Li Peng. The approval had not been without controversy. Li had trained as a hydroelectric engineer in the Soviet Union. He had pushed to get the project commissioned despite concerns for the relocation of one and a half million people, and for the loss of ecosystems and historical artifacts. Eventually, a majority of the National People’s Congress voted for the construction. Work began in 1994. Only nine years later the reservoir began filling, ahead of schedule and under budget. 
 
The story of why and how this enormous piece of infrastructure came to be is a familiar one. The high modernist project of the twentieth century was to liberate society from a variable climate, to celebrate the final victory of man in his conquest of nature. Today, everyone operates under the illusion that water on the landscape is, or should be, nothing more than an inert backdrop on the stage of human events. That illusion is created because of the forty-five thousand structures taller than fifteen meters that dam the rivers of the world, a number that grows to millions if all barrages cluttering streams are counted. This enormous stock of infrastructure is capable of catching around 20 percent of the world’s annual runoff, the water that collects in rivers and streams across all lands. Modern water infrastructure has replumbed the planet. Three Gorges Dam is one of the latest additions to this vast stock, proof that this modern story of progress has yet to fully run its course. Technology enthusiasts celebrate its achievement, while environmentalists bemoan its impacts. Either way, it is the story of a technological emancipation from nature, in which science and engineering have given humanity, for better or for worse, full control over its own destiny.
 
This story is familiar. It is also wrong. The story of water is not technological, but political. The impact of water on society must be read through the scars left by a continuous cycle of adaptation. All communities relate to water over time through a process of action and reaction. A levee might protect people settled behind it. A dam might store water for those times when none comes from the sky. But as towns grow and farms expand, people forget why those structures were built in the first place. Society evolves and habituates to its newfound security. Institutions develop in the shadow of infrastructure designed to create an illusion of stability. Then one day, unexpectedly, the levee fails or the reservoir behind the dam goes dry. Loss follows, sometimes catastrophically. People are forced to reconsider their environment, which is no longer the inert scenery to their life. They learn, rebuild, expand, reaching a new level of security. Their institutions adjust, habits change. The cycle repeats.
 
Technological progress and people’s emancipation from nature are a secondary theme in this story. The effects of humanity’s ongoing relationship with water are not merely written in rivers. They are etched into the fabric of society, into the beliefs, behaviors, and systems that regulate everyday life. What is most engineered is not landscape, but political institutions.
 
The central argument of this book is that humanity’s attempts to organize society while surrounded by moving water led people to create institutions, which tied individuals together in mutual dependence as they tried to deal with their environment. From countless variations over centuries, the republic emerged as the most successful mechanism to mediate the modern concerns of individual freedom and collective benefit in the face of water’s overwhelming force. The argument is not strictly deterministic: water by itself could not have “determined” the form of political institutions. However, institutions did emerge, at least in part, so that society could express its agency over a changing environment. In that sense, the heart of the story of water on the planet is a political answer to material conditions. Seen through this lens, the roots of modern society’s relationship to water go far back in time. The story begins when, ten thousand years ago, humans took the crucial step of becoming sedentary. By then, Homo sapiens had already been around for three hundred thousand years, but from a fixed place of observation, the full force of water became overwhelming. Droughts interfered with food production. Storms disrupted people’s lives. Floods destroyed communities. Because of water’s force, individuals had limited power in controlling their environment. Rather, society as a whole had to learn how to exercise its own power.
 
Over the course of human history, life on the water landscape forged a social contract. Water is the ultimate res publicaa public good—a moving, formless substance that defies private ownership, is hard to contain, and requires collective management. People developed institutions that required mediating individual desires and collective action in the face of water’s force. Those institutions eventually became dominant across the modern world. Legal and political systems, the territorial nation-state, finance, a system of trade, all evolved over thousands of years, while communities tried to ensure they could survive—even harness—the force of water in service of a commonwealth. Without understanding where those ideas came from, and how their development related to water, it is impossible to make sense of why and how the landscape looks the way it does today.
 
Part I of this book follows the dialectic relationship between the  water landscape and human society from the neolithic to classical antiquity, showing how it contributed to shaping statehood. Part II then shows how—over a thousand years—antiquity was metabolized by European nations into the modern state. The legal legacy of Rome, classical republicanism, political liberalism, the sirens of utopianism, all mixed to inspire institutions, from the American Republic to the British Empire, which set the stage for the twentieth century. Part III describes how the power of the modern state and the force of industrial capitalism led to the most radical transformation of landscape in history. Its success was so complete as to make society’s relationship with water invisible, hidden under the fabric of modern life, and sowing the seeds of the dangerous illusion that governs the present. Part IV, the last one, describes how, below the visible surface of a society that believes itself separated from nature, the undercurrents of water’s agency still flow as powerful as ever.
 
Such a millennial story is not just an account of events and physical constructions. It is a story of ideas. In fact, it is impossible to explain the former without the latter. Three Gorges Dam, for example, was first the product of Dr. Sun’s dream. Sun Yat-sen is often referred to as the father of the Chinese nation. He was a character of extraordinary complexity, a voracious intellect, a lifelong radical, a charismatic leader. Dr. Sun’s life exposed him to a broad spectrum of cultures, tracing a path from his birth in a village in Guangdong, to his early schooling in an Anglican college in the kingdom of Hawaii, to his training as a medical doctor in Hong Kong in the 1880s. Along the way, he converted to Christianity. He was a physician, but his gift was revolution.
 
Dr. Sun was inspired by the profound transformations of the end of the nineteenth century, caught between British imperial aspirations and the utopianism of a modern, industrial society mesmerized by the echoes of classical republicanism. He sought to first reform and then overthrow the reactionary Qing regime in China. During years of exile and failed revolts, his anti-reactionary fervor grew. Like many modern revolutionaries he was intimately familiar with the history of Western political thought. He embraced ideals of emancipation and justice, admiring the French, American, and British constitutional settlements, even while resenting the policies those powers pursued. After the revolution of 1911, the Qing finally overthrown, Dr. Sun became the president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of China. The opportunity to make his dreams a reality had arrived.
 
Alas, China’s first modern republic quickly descended into chaos, as the old military elites turned to dictatorship. Unable to realize his utopian vision for the future, Dr. Sun moved to the French concession in Shanghai and wrote about it instead. International Development of China was his blueprint for the country’s economic rebirth. His point of reference was America. Sun Yat-sen proposed to “make capitalism create socialism in China so that these two economic forces of human evolution will work side by side in future civilization.” His political philosophy required transforming the water resources of China. He compared the potential of the Yellow River to that of the Mississippi, imagining a delta designed to mimic the jetties of New Orleans. He imagined improving existing canals and embankments, constructing new waterways, hydropower, and irrigated agriculture. Then, he imagined a dam in the middle of the mainstem of the Yangtze, at three incised gorges, to “form locks to enable crafts to ascend the river as well as to generate water power.” It was 1920.
 
Dr. Sun was not an engineer, but the interpreter of ideas that stretched as far back as human history. His was the dream of a utopian and a revolutionary. The Three Gorges Dam that stopped the flood in 2010 was not about catching up to the latest technology. The dam was the product of a society that had long chosen to tame the environment on an unprecedented scale. It was the product of a hundred-year- old dream steeped in republican values, one which spoke of commonwealth and progress, of rights of individuals and national aspirations, and which had crystallized long before the modern multipurpose dam had become a common feature of the landscape.
 
Dr. Sun’s dream gave the idea of Three Gorges Dam the strength to persist through time, through Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government, through Mao Zedong’s era, through Deng Xiaoping’s reforms, to, finally, Li Peng’s premiership. Once built, the dam seemed to prove that those living downstream could sleep soundly in the knowledge that something powerful watched over them. The significance of that security was in its political intent. Its engineering had become an instrument of the state in creating an illusion of final emancipation from nature in service of a commonwealth. The question is what happens when—not if—the illusion of emancipation is shattered. 
 
At the dawn of the twenty-first century, humanity has become a force on the planet so powerful that some have renamed this era “the Anthropocene.” But that has not heralded the conquest of nature. Far from it. The profound modifications inflicted on the planet have tightened, not severed people’s relationship with water. The increase in greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere is having a measurable impact on the energy balance of the planet, modifying Earth’s water cycle. The extraordinary rainfall of 2010 on the Yangtze basin was a harbinger of much more to come. Changes in the climate system will eventually shatter the illusion of any final emancipation from nature. When they do, what will be concerning, above all, will not be the flaws they expose in the engineered landscape, but the societal response they stimulate.
 
The success of a republic in managing the tension between individual liberty and collective action rests on fragile and unstable foundations. By destabilizing those foundations, the water events of the twenty-first century could have profound political consequences. What compromises people will be willing to make in order to achieve further security in a newly uncertain world—what sacrifices to individual liberty they will endure and what choices they will make in the pursuit of a collective benefit—will determine whether the unstable balance between freedom and commonwealth can be preserved. That is, above all, what is of fundamental importance to everybody’s future.
 
The questions posed by having to manage the power of water on the planet are not primarily technical, scientific, or even aesthetic. They are fundamentally questions about power, about who gets to decide what happens in everyone’s home. The answer is often found in the minds of radical dreamers. Dr. Sun’s dream a hundred years ago led to the Three Gorges Dam. Similar dreams created the modern world. To imagine what kind of future current dreams might bring, it is crucial to understand humanity’s relationship to water, the most powerful agent of the climate system on Earth. For that, the combined story of people and water—a biography of water—matters a great deal.

Praise

"Brimming with ideas and unexpected correlations, Water is far more than a biography of its nominal subject . . . The book stands as a compelling history of civilization itself."The Wall Street Journal Book Review
 
"This is one of the most ambitious books that I've read in a long time. It is both deep and broad."—NPR, All Things Considered
 
"[A] wonderfully detailed account of humankind’s relationship with water . . . During this time of accelerated population growth, climate change, and political instability, Water is essential reading."Booklist
 
"A renowned expert on natural resource security and environmental stability, lending Water a pressing, historically fascinating, and informative arc . . . Water, the book, is a smart new chapter on the same subject that turned Joan Didion’s head toward the Hoover Dam."—Sloane Crosley, Departures

"A fascinating analysis that will bridge the interests of environmentalists and historians, political scientists, or economists."Library Journal

“Boccaletti brilliantly traces the history of how human civilization has been shaped by its attempts to control water for economic and societal benefit. As the impacts of climate change become clearer, policymakers the world over would be well-served to recognize water as a public good, respecting the importance of this invaluable, shared resource to our very survival.”—Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior 2013-17
 
“Provides essential reading for those seeking to explore how humanity’s relationship with nature has influenced the development of legal and political systems and offers invaluable insights into current debates surrounding climate change and sustainability. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.” —Lee C. Bollinger, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University

“Giulio Boccaletti’s book is a remarkable achievement: a readable history of the world, seen through the history of water management. He shows, with clarity and erudition, how this is in reality a political, not a technological issue. Throughout history, humans have tried to conquer water, but water always wins; and it would be better for humanity if we realised it. The book is a real tour de force; it should be essential reading for every politician, as well as the rest of us.” —Chris Wickham, Chichele Professor of Medieval History, University of Oxford

“A masterly, compelling history of the relationship between society and water. It weaves politics, history, and science in a riveting narrative that spans millennia. Giulio Boccaletti has spent years working on water issues at the highest level and it shows. This is a monumental work, which is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the role of water in human history.” —Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, Chairman Emeritus, Nestlé Group
 
“A leading expert has now shown us he's also a great storyteller. Giulio Boccaletti tackles the most important story of our time: our relationship with water in a world of looming scarcity.”— Kelly McEvers, NPR Host
 
“Giulio Boccaletti makes a strikingly original and persuasive case that the history of human civilization can be understood as a never-ending struggle over water. Boccaletti’s command of a vast range of material, across time and space, is astonishing.” — Nicholas Lemann, Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professor of Journalism, Columbia University.
 
“It was an inspired idea to write a ‘biography’ of water and Giulio Boccaletti has carried it off in style. His book is impressively global in scope. It ranges from the earliest human societies to questions of water security in our own time, combining bold lines of argument with compelling examples. Ambitious, assured and very well written, Water: A Biography is an impressive and very welcome addition to the literature.” —David Blackbourn, Cornelius Vanderbilt Distinguished Chair of History, Vanderbilt University.
 
“In this deeply researched and vivid story, Giulio Boccaletti deftly reveals how the struggle to master water is also the root of all organized society. From antiquity to today’s precipice of water scarcity, he spins a dramatic, sweeping story that forces the reader to reappraise all of human history through a water lens. A transformative, dramatic and revelatory tale of how our struggle to master water defines us as humans.” —John Bredar, Vice-President for National Programming, WGBH
 
“What makes this fascinating book stand out from other accounts of how water has shaped human history across the ages is Boccaletti’s brilliant and nuanced treatment of the political and economic dimensions of water’s role in history. The breadth and substance of the narrative are outstanding. The book is a tour de force!” —Michael Hanemann, Julie A. Wrigley Chair in Sustainability, Arizona State
 
“The story of Water is our story. Giulio Boccaletti takes us on an extraordinary journey through water history, from the retreating glaciers of the ice age which shaped the landscape and the livelihoods of local communities, to the emergence of nation states and the industrialised world, presided over by democrats, despots and dreamers. This book is a cautionary tale for our times” —Alan Yentob, BBC Producer and Presenter
 
“As humanity strays across planetary boundaries, Boccaletti’s political biography of water is essential reading. This bold and ambitious saga offers important lessons and instils humility in the reader, both of which we need as we face the dangers of increasing pressure on nature, climate change, and corrosive inequality.” —Rachel Kyte, Dean, The Fletcher School, Tufts University
 
“A dazzling tale spanning millennia, geography, science, and human civilizations, that is more than the story of water. It is a story of ideas and institutions; of tensions between individual enterprise and collective action; of human needs and planetary dynamics. I am astonished at its breadth, depth, and scholarship, at once encyclopaedic yet also highly readable.” —Lynn Scarlett, Chief External Affairs Officer, The Nature Conservancy
 
“Magisterial.  Boccaletti has pinned down our complex relationship with our most vital resource. We live, like the ancients, in a hydraulic civilization – one determined to a remarkable degree by where and when we can find water.  As he reveals with startling clarity, we face a water crisis as profound as our climate crisis.  The fate of the Anthropocene hangs on the fate of water.” —Fred Pearce, author of When The Rivers Run Dry
 
“Excellent. Boccaletti takes the reader on a polyglot tour de force that shows how the flow of human history, economics and geopolitics is utterly connected to the constant blue thread of our need for water. Water A Biography poses challenging questions about how best to secure our water future and, as a result, ensure our very existence.” —Dominic Waughray, Managing Director, World Economic Forum

“Water could have no better biographer than Giulio Boccaletti who takes us on a fascinating journey, telling the story of how humanity's interactions with this most precious resource have shaped our history, our present, and will define our future.  Brilliant and enlightening.” —Eric D. Beinhocker, Professor, Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford
 
"A tour de force world history focused on water and how we use it . . . Ingenious"Kirkus Reviews (starred)
 
 

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