Rivers of Power
Laurence C. Smith

Book cover image

Narrated By: Victor Bevine

Duration: 10 hours and 5 minutes

What to expect

Brought to you by Penguin.

Rivers, more than any road, technology or political event, have shaped the course of civilization.


In Rivers of Power, geographer Laurence C. Smith tells the sweeping story of rivers and how they made us. Rivers have opened frontiers, defined borders, supported trade, generated energy and fed billions. Most of our greatest cities stand on river banks or deltas, and our quest for mastery has spurred staggering advances in engineering, science and law. Rivers and their topographic divides have shaped the territories of nations and the migration of peoples, and yet - as their resources become ever more precious - can foster cooperation even among enemy states. And though they are increasingly domesticated, they remain a formidable global force: these vast arterial powers promote life but are capable of destroying everything in their path.

From ancient Egypt to the space age to our growing contemporary metropolises, Rivers of Power reveals why rivers matter so profoundly to human civilization, and how they continue to be indispensable to our societies and wellbeing.

©Laurence C. Smith 2020 (P) Penguin Audio 2020

Genre

Rivers and lakes, Historical geography, General and world history, Geopolitics, Hydrology and the hydrosphere, The Earth: natural history: general interest

Listen to a sample

A hymn to hydrology ancient and modern.

The Spectator

Smith takes readers on a tour of the world's great rivers. The result is fascinating, eye-opening, sometimes alarming, and ultimately inspiring.

Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction

Absorbing. Smith is not only an excellent storyteller, he is also perhaps the world's leading scientist using satellites to unlock the secrets of the planet's rivers. His deep understanding will inspire readers to see rivers in wholly new and surprising ways.

Paul Bates, Professor of Hydrology, University of Bristol

A tour de force - a narrative as powerful as the rivers he documents. He is up there with Jared Diamond - a storyteller with real craft. From Herodotus musing on the Nile to the dam makers of modern China, this is their story.

Fred Pearce, author of When The Rivers Run Dry

Engaging, informative, magisterial in its coverage, intimidating in the scope of its command of the material, there's no end to the good things to be said about this book.

Geography Realm

Smith demonstrates compellingly and engagingly that rivers have played a key role in the development of nations and, indeed, of humankind itself.

Professor Julian Dowdeswell, Director of the Scott Centre for Polar Research, University of Cambridge

Instructive and entertaining. Smith's prose is clear and he explains scientific concepts well.

The Times

With scholarship, literary flair, and a personal touch, Smith takes the reader on a fascinating and surprising voyage of discovery. He also sounds a clarion call for all of us to invest in protecting our rivers as a means of improving our own lives.

Eric Jay Dolin, bestselling author of Black Flags, Blue Waters

Passionate... and infectiously enthusiastic ... an eclectic journey through several millennia.

The Financial Times

How can one write a world history of rivers? Laurence C. Smith triumphantly meets the challenge, fluently comparing the role of rivers in wartime, in trade, in water management, in floods and droughts, and, looking to the future, in a world of rising temperatures.

David Abulafia, author of The Boundless Sea

This book about rivers is as fascinating as it is beautifully written