Rivers of Power

They have opened new frontiers, founded cities, settled borders, and fed billions of us. They promote life, forge peace, grant power, and capriciously destroy everything in their path. Rivers, more than any road, technology, or political leader, have shaped the course of civilisation. And even as they have become increasingly domesticated, they remain a powerful global force, one that is more critical than ever to our future. Geographer Laurence C. Smith tells the sweeping story of rivers and how they made us.


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'As fascinating as it is beautifully written' JARED DIAMOND, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Guns, Germs and Steel

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

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 become 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 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.

'Takes readers on a tour of the world's great rivers - past, present and future. The result is fascinating, eye-opening, sometimes alarming, and ultimately inspiring' Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sixth Extinction

'A tour de force ... 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

'Instructive and entertaining' The Times

Additional information

Weight 281 g
Dimensions 198 × 129 × 21 mm

Smith, Laurence C.


Penguin Books


Penguin Books










551.483 (edition:23)


General – Trade / Code: K