Rivers of Power

by Laurence C Smith

Friday, June 21, 2024

Featured image for Rivers of Power

This is a beast of a non-fiction book. I think it’s taken me three library renewals to get through it. Not because it’s tedious or hard to read, there’s just so much detail here and I never really felt tempted to skip bits. And I kept wandering off to look up stuff that was mentioned.

On the back cover the book is tagged as ‘Historical Geography’ which I’d never really thought of as a thing before, but it’s really up my street. The natural course of rivers determines where we live, decides where we draw boundaries, helps us survive, and all kinds of other things. The scale of the book is breathtaking as it passes from ancient agriculture to modern day dams and hydropower via all the wars and floods in between. In fact beyond the dams and the hydropower to how huge infrastructures are now being dismantled in some places and the changes that need to happen to make things sustainable. It’s fascinating. I was struck by the number of examples that I’d already come across, for example, he’d mention the Johnstown Flood which was new to me and I’d think it reminded me of the Bilberry Reservoir collapse in Holmfirth in 1852 and then I’d turn the page and he’d mention Bilberry, a reservoir I’ve lived near, walked around and have learnt its history. There were several examples like that in the book, it connected up things I already knew.

This is pretty much a history of how humans manage to live on Earth, if you just change a few parameters about how rivers work we can’t do that and probably wouldn’t be here today. It’s a really good read.