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Water: A Biography


A revelatory history—spanning continents and millennia—of how humanity’s relationship to moving water has shaped civilization, transformed political institutions, and defined people’s lives.


    In this richly narrated and authoritative work—combining environmental and societal history—Giulio Boccaletti begins with the earliest civilizations of sedentary farmers on the banks of the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Yangtze. He describes how these societies developed institutions that responded to changes in climate and sea level, following the last glacial melt.


    We see how irrigation and flood control interacted with society to influence political systems: how, in Ancient Greece, the distribution of power mapped onto the distribution of water; how Roman water security was inextricably linked to the tax system of the empire. And he makes clear how the modern world as we know it began from that legacy: from a legal system that made possible the systematic development of water infrastructure, and political systems that succeeded in harnessing its power.


    He shows how the rise of the modern republic is linked to the central role water had in society, and shows how, behind the illusions of technological modernity, humanity’s long, difficult relationship with moving water still shapes today’s politics and economics. 

"In its scope and clarity, Water: A Biography provides a fascinating framework through which we can more fully understand society's relationship to, and fundamental reliance on, the most elemental substance on our planet."



The Economist Best Books of 2021


Water: A Biography was listed among the best books of 2021 by The Economist, alongside books by Patrick Radden Keefe, Kazuo Ishiguro, Wole Soyinka, Gregory Zuckerman, Seth Anil Seth, and others!

"Humankind’s intensely political relationship with water is the undergirding of civilisation, argues this rich and engaging history."

Watch a clip of Giulio Boccaletti

From the three part series on water: H2O, The Molecule That Made Us. 

Exec producer John Bredar of GBH, series producer, Dave Allen of Passion Pictures. Egypt segment - Episode 2

Segment provided courtesy of GBH

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