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Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith

Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith
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“This book about rivers is as fascinating as it’s beautifully written.”—Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and Upheaval


A “fascinating, eye-opening, sometimes alarming, and ultimately inspiring” natural history of rivers and their complex and ancient relationship with human civilization (Elizabeth Kolbert).

Rivers, more than any road, technology, or political leader, have shaped the course of human civilization. They have opened frontiers, founded cities, settled borders, and fed billions. They promote life, forge peace, grant power, and can capriciously destroy everything in their path. Even today, rivers remain a powerful global force — one that is more critical than ever to our future.

In Rivers of Power, geographer Laurence C. Smith explores the timeless yet vastly underappreciated relationship between rivers and civilization as we know it. Rivers are of course important in many practical ways (water supply, transportation, sanitation). But the full breadth of their profound influence on the way we live is less obvious. Rivers define and transcend international borders, forcing cooperation between nations. Huge volumes of river water are used to produce energy, raw commodities, and food. Wars, politics, and demography are transformed by their devastating floods. The territorial claims of nations, their cultural and economic ties to each other, and the migrations and histories of their peoples trace back to rivers, river valleys, and the topographic divides they carve upon the world.

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

Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our WorldRivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World by Laurence C. Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure: I would like to thank Penguin Press UK for providing me with an advance reader copy via access to the galley for free through the NetGalley program.

Loved the opening. This book was super insightful and covered a wide variety of influences and the impact that rivers have on the world. There was so much I learned from this book and I liked the amount on detail overall.

This book was very well-researched which I really appreciated.

There were times I thought the organization was not as strong as it could have been. But I could see the challenge in deciding how chapters/concepts would be organized. Choosing from chronological, geographical region, topical, etc… There was much overlap to work through, also my feelings about the order may be in part because of the ARC I received.

Sometimes the writing took on a journalistic approach, sometimes a personal opinion piece, other times some facts and connections read sort of like an 8th grade book report. The facts and personal experiences themselves were certainly compelling, but the writing kind of droned on sometimes. Like the writing got away. Away on some bunny trails. Facts were interesting but a tad misplaced on occasion as it went into the depths of history/current events that were somewhat related but contained unnecessary supporting information/random associations that I was less inclined to care about for what I really wanted to read about in this book as far as the continuation of the topics go.

However I most definitely discovered some fascinating information about rivers and I think anyone would enjoy learning about these rivers of power and how they have shaped and continue to shape our lives.

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