cover image Water: A Biography

Water: A Biography

Giulio Boccaletti. Pantheon, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4823-4

Boccaletti, chief strategic officer for the Nature Conservancy, debuts with an informative if dry survey of “the overwhelming power of water” and its influence on society. Boccaletti describes how water influenced state infrastructures (such as the development of Egypt’s state along the Nile), and how ideas about water evolved into societal norms (for example, Jewish jurisprudence regarding water ownership stems from the “water-scarce” Levant). In China in the fifth and sixth centuries, he writes, Daoists advocated for well-spaced embankments adapted to the annual floods, while conflicting Confucians argued for levees to constrain the waters “into submission.” And Rome became “a world of small dams, diversions, and tiny settling tanks, all developed by private individuals.” Boccaletti connects political troubles throughout Europe to famines brought on by drought, and suggests America’s expansion and economic growth was due to its natural waterways. He brings things up to the present by discussing “modern environmentalism,” covering climate change, global water security, and China’s Three Gorges Dam, the largest piece of infrastructure in the world when it was commissioned in 2009. But while Boccaletti covers a lot of ground, things never come together into a cohesive narrative. There’s loads of information on offer and plenty of intriguing history, but the meandering path doesn’t really lead anywhere. [em](May) [/em]