Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World

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Little, Brown, Apr 21, 2020 - Nature - 368 pages
A "fascinating, eye-opening, sometimes alarming, and ultimately inspiring" (Elizabeth Kolbert) natural history of rivers and their complex and ancient relationship with human civilization.
Rivers, more than any road, technology, or political leader, have shaped the course of civilization. They have opened frontiers, founded cities, settled borders, and fed billions. They promote life, forge peace, grant power, and capriciously destroy everything in their path. And even as they have become increasingly domesticated, rivers remain a powerful global force, one that is more critical than ever to our future.

In Rivers of Power, geographer Laurence C. Smith takes a deep dive into the timeless and vastly underappreciated relationship between rivers and civilization as we know it. Rivers are of course important to us in all the obvious ways (like water supply, sanitation, transport, etc.). But they also shape us in less obvious ways. Massive amounts of river water support the global food trade; huge volumes are consumed to provide the world's electricity -- not just by hydropower, but by coal, nuclear, and natural gas power plants too; most of our globally important cities are positioned on the banks of rivers or river deltas. The territories of nations, their cultural and economic ties to one another, and the migrations of people trace to rivers and the topographic divides they carve on the world.

Beautifully told and expansive in scope, Rivers of Power reveals how and why rivers have so profoundly shaped civilization, and examines the importance this vast, arterial power holds for our present, past, and future.

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About the author (2020)

Laurence C. Smith is the John Atwater and Diana Nelson University Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University. He is a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union and of the John S. Guggenheim Foundation, and his scientific research has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, and on NPR, CBC Radio, and BBC, among others. His first book, The World in 2050, won the Walter P. Kistler Book Award and was a Nature Editor's Pick of 2012.

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