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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."

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"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, WSJ Book Review

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"To understand humanity you have to understand his book Water: A Biography, he traces the history of how humanity, regardless of continent or creed, has shaped entire civilizations around a resource that's both fickle and essential for life on earth

– NPR Book of the Day

"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 

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"A tour de force world history focused on water and how we use it... An ingenious lesson in geopolitics" 

– Kirkus Reviews (Starred) 

Early Praise


"Boccaletti brilliantly traces the history of how human civilisation has been shaped by its attempts to control water.."

Sally Jewell, US Secretary of the Interior,


"Provides essential reading...I couldn't recommend it more highly."

Lee C. Bollinger, President and Seth Low Professor of the University, Columbia University

"A remarkable achievement... The book is a real tour de force; it should be essential reading.."

Chris Wickham, Chichele Professor of Medieval History Emeritus, University of Oxford


"This is a monumental work, 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."

Kelly McEvers, NPR Host

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

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."


About Giulio Boccaletti

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Giulio Boccaletti, Ph.D., is an author and a globally recognized expert on natural resource security and environmental sustainability. 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 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a partner of McKinsey & Company, and the chief strategy officer of The Nature Conservancy, one of the largest environmental organizations in the world. 


    He is an Honorary Research Associate in the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford University. He writes on environmental issues for news media, 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.